Attending Mississippi universities could get more expensive

Published 10:12 pm Saturday, May 12, 2007

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.

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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.