A contentious debate before a final vote is expected Thursday when the state College Board considers whether it should increase tuition at the eight public universities.
A tuition increase would come on the heels of a 15 percent hike this year. College Board member Roy Klumb of Gulfport said the board can't afford to make the wrong move.
"I'm definitely not voting for a tuition increase. We've raised tuition 30 percent in the last four years,'' Klumb said. "We are having a tough year, but all of the information that I have seen, these budget cuts that you are hearing so much about, are an illusion, a phantom. The universities are operating on pretty much flat budgets and have been for the last couple of years.''
University presidents say there is no illusion as to how much they have been forced to cut and how much they need to operate. They say their budgets have decreased nearly $100 million since 2000.
Higher education officials have said they need $40 million to cover the difference between what they requested from lawmakers and what was appropriated to the universities for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Mississippi university presidents have said tuition increases are needed to avoid layoffs, larger class sizes and other belt-tightening measures.
Alcorn State University President Clinton Bristow Jr. and Jackson State University President Ronald Mason Jr. favor 10 percent tuition increases for next fall. Other universities are also seeking double-digit increases in tuition.
Last year, the board voted to allow universities to raise tuition up to 15 percent to make up for a $65 million loss in state funding.
Board member Ricki Garrett of Clinton expressed concern over the college presidents' request, but later made a motion to approve it. Garrett said Tuesday that she's again concerned about raising tuition because it places a burden on parents and students.
"I really honestly have not decided how I am going to vote on this,'' she said. "I don't think the board will pass the double-digit increase, but I do think it is possible that there will be a single-digit increase. I think we ... have to balance the needs of the universities with the concerns of parents and students about the cost of higher education.''
In 2001-2002, resident tuition and required fees ranged between $3,054 annually at Mississippi University for Women to $3,626 at the University of Mississippi. The amount was $3,206 annually at Jackson State. Last year's increase amounted to about $500 more in tuition at each university over 2000-2001.
Starkville businessman Bryce Griffis, the board's incoming president, said he expects the board to pass some sort of increase.
College Board member Carl Nicholson of Hattiesburg said no one has settled on a tuition figure.
"Different institutions are requesting different amounts and we are trying to analyze cuts that have been made to the budgets on the expenditure side in order to gauge how much additional revenues we are going to have in tuition income,'' he said.
Klumb said the board will continue to face budget problems as long as the Legislature is not pressured into changing the way it funds higher education.
"If we raise tuition this year and the Legislature, as it looks at the budget formulation process, it's going to be in the back of their minds that look these guys raised tuition last year so they are taking care of the problem,'' Klumb said.
"What's going to take care of the problem is the College Board stressing to the Legislature that we need a continuous, reliable percentage of our budget to be funded by them,'' he said.
Garrett agrees with Klumb. She said the College Board is already looking at possibility of tuition increases for the next two years.