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Attending Mississippi universities could get more expensive

Students at Mississippi’s eight public universities might have to dig deeper to pay tuition, under a plan the state College Board will consider this coming week.

The board will debate increasing tuition by up to 5 percent. The additional money would help pay for salary raises and cover the schools’ other needs, including the increasing cost of gasoline.

A 5 percent increase would cost a student $150 to $200 more per semester, or up to $400 annually, higher education leaders said. University tuition in Mississippi has increased 50 percent since 2000.

The College Board meets Wednesday and Thursday in Jackson. New tuition rates would take effect in August when students begin classes for the 2007-08 academic year.

Board finance chairman Aubrey Patterson and Higher Education Commissioner Tom Meredith said another round of tuition hikes is needed despite a 14.3 percent budget increase — a jump of more than $90 million from the 2007 Legislature.

If the board doesn’t seek more money from students, “you whittle away at pay raises,” Patterson told The Clarion-Ledger editorial board on Friday.

Professors’ salaries in Mississippi are “woefully behind” sister institutions in the region, he said. A 5 percent pay raise will cost $31 million.

During the 2006-07 academic year, tuition increased 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent with an additional 1 percent gas surcharge tacked on, despite a similar $90 million increase from the 2006 Legislature following five consecutive years of weak budgets. Tuition for the 2006-07 academic year at the University of Mississippi, for instance, was $4,601.

“We were hoping there would be no increase in tuition. Hopefully, it will not be 5 percent,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Gordon, D-Okolona.

He said a 3 percent increase would be more appropriate.

The average faculty salary for all of Mississippi’s eight universities was $56,017 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005. Salaries ranged from $43,616 at Mississippi University for Women to $61,047 at the University of Mississippi.

Board leaders say salaries for Mississippi university professors are nearly $10,000 a year below those of their peers in the South. That makes it difficult to recruit and keep good professors, they say.

Mississippi’s 15 community and junior colleges will not have a tuition increase for the coming year. Lawmakers approved a 20 percent budget increase for the two-year schools for the fiscal year that starts July 1.