Price Of Higher Education Going Up 8 Percent

Tuition at Mississippi's eight public universities will increase 8 percent this fall, the state College Board decided Thursday.

Board members approved the recommendation of Higher Education Commissioner Tom Layzell in 9-2 vote.

Roy Klumb of Gulfport and Scott Ross of West Point were the only members to vote against the tuition increase.

The 8 percent hike was endorsed by the eight college presidents, although some had hoped for more. The increase ranges between $244 per semester at Mississippi University for Women to $290 at the University of Mississippi.

The board also voted to increase room and board fees, athletic fees, and required universities to hold in reserve more than half of the revenue generated from the higher tuition in case Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has to cut spending later in the fiscal year.

College Board member Amy Whitten, who introduced the revenue reserve amendment to Layzell's proposal, said the move is a step toward a multiyear tuition plan to address the needs at public universities.

"I can't vote for 8 percent without some restraints,'' Whitten said. "I don't care if Mississippi as a state wins the international lottery, next year is just going to be bad.''

"We need to hold as much as we can, so that we can increase our options when times get tougher next year,'' she said.

Ross said requiring universities to hold back a large portion of the 8 percent will help schools deal with possible future cuts, but it does nothing to help those who have to pay more tuition.

"What effect is this going to have the students? I don't see the benefit,'' Ross said. "The long term benefit is what I am looking at,'' Whitten told Ross. "I am looking at ways to maintain a base of resources. I'm really truly a lot more concerned about next year.''

University presidents said they had already planned to reserve a portion of their budgets to cover possible reductions by the governor.

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. The amount may be a lot more next year, officials say.

University presidents said tuition increases were needed to avoid layoffs, larger class sizes and other belt-tightening measures.

"I think 8 percent is a reasonable number,'' Layzell told board members before the vote. "When there is a decline in state support, we have to offset it by tuition increases.''

Layzell said all university heads had said they would be making more budget cuts next year. "If you get this 8 percent increase, no one is going to say, 'Whoa, we don't have to do anything now.','' he said.

Alcorn State President Clinton Bristow said the recommendation was in line with the College Board policy of keeping tuition as low as possible.

"When we started, a number of institutions were beyond the 8 percent. We have backed off the double digit increase. We have compromised,'' Bristow said.

Klumb said he was not satisfied that an increase was needed. Klumb said last year's tuition increase generated over $40 million in additional revenue and university presidents choose to put most of the money into research budgets, where the money did not benefit the general education programs.

Klumb said if tuition is raised this year, it sends a message the College Board had handled the problem and the Legislature had "passed the buck.''

The board also decided to form a task force to study the criteria for future tuition increases. Whitten said it is not fair to treat every university the same because each school has different needs.

As the meeting opened Thursday, state Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, asked board members to leave tuition alone.

"You have raised it three of the last four years,'' Flaggs said. "I am here to tell you that I'll bet my political career that if you raise it this year, you'll raise it next year.''

Flaggs said lawmakers will still be faced with a budget crunch next year and won't raise taxes in an election year.

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.

In 2001-2002, annual resident tuition and required fees ranged between $3,054 at Mississippi University for Women and $3,626 at the University of Mississippi. The amount was $3,206 annually at Jackson State.