Every public university but Jackson State University will raise tuition rates this coming school year, continuing a trend that puts the cost of college increasingly out of reach for the average family in Mississippi.
The Institution of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved the new tuition rates at its regular meeting Thursday. The board voted to waive a requirement to wait 30 days after introducing new tuition rates in lieu of immediate adoption.
For the coming school year, average in-state tuition will increase by $177, from $8,219 to $8,396 a year. Average out-of-state tuition will increase from $11,803 a year to $12,197 a year. Room and board will increase to $5,655 a year.
Students at Mississippi Valley State University will see the highest increases from $6,928 to $7,274, about $346 a year, but tuitionwill remain the lowest of all eight universities. Mississippi State University will continue to have the highest in-state tuition rate at $9,248 a year, up from last school year’s rate of $9,110.
At the board meeting, John Pearce, IHL’s associate commissioner of finance, said the universities cited “a lot of inflationary costs that are happening right now,” as well as salary increases, as the reason for the tuition increases.
Commissioner Alfred Rankins added that without support from the Legislature, the universities would have needed to increase tuition even more.
“Trustees, I do want to point out that had it not been for the generous increase in appropriations we received from the Legislature, the institutions would have had to raise tuition even higher than what we see presented here today,” Rankins said.
The Legislature allocated about $411 million in education and general funds to Mississippi’s eight universities, a 14.5% increase from last year’s appropriation. Caron Blanton, IHL’s spokesperson, wrote in an email that IHL’s appropriations bills don’t allocate a specific amount for salary increases but that “the amount appropriated is sufficient to cover a salary increase for university employees and some additional funds for operating costs.”
Jackson State was the only university that did not increase tuition last year. In 2020, every university but Delta State University decided not to increase tuition due to the pandemic.
Mississippi’s eight public universities have all steadily increased tuition since 2000 as the Legislature has decreased funding for higher education. Tuition now comprises the majority of universities’ revenue in Mississippi. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, tuition accounted for 54% of public university revenue in 2018 in Mississippi, compared to 25% in 2008.
This means college is increasingly unaffordable for the average family in Mississippi who has seen their income stagnate. That is one reason why more than half of Mississippi college students graduated with an average of $29,714 in student debt in 2020, according to the Institution for College Access and Success.
Many low-income students in Mississippi qualify for state and federal financial aid. But some lawmakers and the Post-Secondary Education Financial Assistance Board, which oversees financial aid in Mississippi, have been trying to find ways to limit the number of students who can qualify for the state’s three undergraduate grant programs.
Last year, the Post-Secondary Board proposed eliminating the state’s three grant programs, including the Higher Education Legislative Plan for Needy Students, or HELP, grant, which pays for all four years of college for low-income students.
In its place, the board proposed the Mississippi One Grant. Under that program, more students would qualify for aid but Black and low-income students on average would lose thousands of dollars in college financial aid while white students would gain money.
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.