Limits in Higher Education Funding May Harm Students in Years to Come

March 22nd, 2013

As Mississippi’s Legislative Session continues, appropriations bills for state agencies and critical programs are transitioning through the Legislature. Among them are appropriations bills for all levels of education- including Mississippi’s universities. Over the last decade the combination of funding and enrollment at universities has led to increasing costs to families and students and declining resources for university students and faculty. The funding decisions made this year and in the near future will shape access, affordability, and long-term opportunities for potential university students in Mississippi for many years ahead. 

Both universities and community colleges across Mississippi have experienced significant enrollment growth since 2000. The chart below shows that enrollment at Mississippi’s public, 4-year universities grew by 8,000 students between 2000 and 2012. In contrast, the state’s appropriations per full-time student* have fallen by over $2,000 when adjusted for inflation. When universities receive the equivalent to $2,000 less per student, it affects tuition, supports available to students, class offerings and class size, and additional university staff available to meet the needs of students. The lack of adequate funds has also increased the gap between the average faculty salaries in Mississippi and the salaries of faculty in other Southern states. 

A report released Tuesday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) notes that Mississippi is not alone in experiencing disinvestment in higher education. In particular, they note that:

“Tuition increases have been both substantial and widespread. Since the 2007-08 school year, after adjusting for inflation, the average tuition at public four-year colleges has increased by more than 15 percent in 40 states.”

In Mississippi, the cost of higher education is rising at a time when families have less income to make ends meet. As tuition rises, it can also affect a student’s decision to attend college altogether. Low-income students in particular are at risk of by-passing higher education when tuition rises. The CBPP report states that this is true even when financial aid might be available. Underscoring that regardless of financial support the price of school can lead to uncertainty about pursuing a much needed degree.

Higher costs also lead more students to seek employment while in school and increase the amount of hours they work each week. When increased work hours are combined with decreased student support, the likelihood rises that students may step out of college before graduation or may struggle to perform to their highest academic potential.¹

Mississippi continues to need reforms that increase enrollment in higher education and increase the portion of students that complete higher education.  Key to this effort is making sure there is adequate state revenue to support higher education, as well as other state priorities.  The state’s revenue system must be updated to keep up with changes in the economy, tax breaks should be evaluated and rolled back, and loopholes closed that are limiting the state’s ability to collect adequate revenue.  However, there are a number of new tax breaks under consideration in the legislative session that would worsen the current funding environment.  Without adequate resources, the state is at risk of moving the needle on college access in the wrong direction- limiting personal economic opportunity and the state’s economic advancement for years to come.

Author: Sarah Welker, Policy Analyst

¹Oliff, Phil and Vincent Palacios, Ingrid Johnson, and Michael Leachman. 2013.  Recent Deep State Higher Education Cuts May Harm Students and the Economy for Years to Come. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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