Tulane dean frustrated over student financial aid request

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -  My Lien Nguyen is an assistant teacher at Jeff Davis Elementary School in Biloxi. She needs the job to help pay for classes at Tulane University Mississippi Coast campus.

"Every year, tuition prices go up," said My Lien Nguyen. "I needed some kind of income to help me pay for my living expenses, as well as tuition for college."

And with books costing as much as $100 each, Nguyen wishes she could turn to state grants for help.

But Tulane students in Biloxi can't apply for MTAG, the Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant. The grant was established in 1995, listing more than 30 eligible colleges and universities in Mississippi. Tulane is not on that list, because the Biloxi campus opened in 2002. The award ranges from $500 a year for qualified freshmen and sophomores, to $1,000 a year for juniors and seniors.

"We're accredited by the state. We're credited by the Southern Association. We're ranked in the top 50 universities in the United States, and not to be included is almost a slap in the face," said Tulane Dean Dr. Rick Marksbury.

Marksbury says he has asked the state legislature four times in the last seven years to put Tulane on the list of schools that are eligible for MTAG. But the bills never made it out of subcommittee. Marksbury believes the state College Board may be trying to block the bill.

"IHL represents the four-year state universities, and I understand further that MTAG money is in a pot," said Markbury. "So if they let any new players come in, then the piece of the pie that you got is smaller."

Marksbury says it's a matter of fairness.

"If you are a citizen of Mississippi, and your family pays taxes, and a school located in the state of Mississippi is accredited by the state, you should be able to use your tax dollars to go there through the MTAG program. To me it's a violation of state law that you can't do that," said Marksbury.

And if the bill fails again, Marksbury says it may require legal action to change the law.

"What I would like to happen is a student who is qualified for MTAG funds, who wants to come here, files a lawsuit. Because I think it's going to have to get resolved in the courts, because the legislature won't do it," said Marksbury.

My Lien Nguyen is hoping the bill passes, so she'll apply for a piece of the grant pie.

"Even if its $250 or $500, that will ease a lot of pain in our pockets," said Nguyen.

A spokesperson for the state College Board issued a statement Tuesday saying, "While IHL has no position on Tulane's request, the immediate challenge is to continue to work with the legislature to serve the Mississippi students currently receiving state financial aid."