Tuition Fuels University Spending

“The money that the universities are receiving from the state in the way of appropriations for the eight universities is considerably less today than it was in the year 2000,” College Board President Ed Blakeslee told Mississippi Public Broadcasting. “And so we’re having to make that up in tuition.”

It was the “having to” part that caught my attention, though the “considerably less” warrants looking at too.

Let’s start with the second point. Actual dollars for IHL were not considerably less, but the percentage was.

According to the College Board’s published “Profile” for fiscal year 2000, IHL Consolidated Appropriations totaled $636.7 million. The comparable state budget figure published by the Legislative Budget Office for just started fiscal year 2013 is $669.8 million, which exceeds the 2000 figure by 5.2%.

The percentage of the IHL budget covered by state appropriations, however, was way down to 23% for fiscal year 2011 from 36% in 2000. That percentage is expected to fall again this year.

This happened because IHL’s total budget continued to grow despite limited state appropriation growth. It increased 50%, from $1.8 billion in 2000 to $2.7 billion in 2011, and, no doubt, is headed up again.

To fill the gap, as Blakeslee implied, the College Board increased tuition. Since 2000, average tuition among the eight universities increased 96%, an average of 8% a year. This occurred despite a 33% increase in full-time equivalent, tuition paying students.

Which brings us back to the first point, the idea that tuition must grow if state appropriations do not.

Underlying this idea is the assumption that university expenditures must always increase. This assumption has the effect of absolving IHL from pursuit of any difficult, transformative changes such as consolidating backshop operations among universities, streamlining archaic and costly departmental bureaucracies, revamping tenure provisions that sustain dead weight, or overhauling personnel practices that favor “market adjustments” over sober management.

Blakeslee’s comments came in response to a report by the Rockefeller Foundation and Yale University showing Mississippi with the highest level of economic insecurity in the nation.

Mississippi’s strategic plan, Blueprint Mississippi, recognizes the state’s need for more university graduates to attract better jobs, grow our economy, and overcome economic insecurity. For this to occur, Mississippi needs to make higher education affordable for its high percentage of low and middle income population. Increasing tuition 8% a year does not help accomplish that goal.

Meanwhile, state revenue growth is slow and other needs are taking precedence over universities and colleges…Medicaid, K-12 education, contributions to the state retirement system, and so on.

So, with no promise of higher state appropriations, per Blakeslee tuition must go up…unless the College Board and the Legislature find the gumption to break the spending cycle and implement transformative changes.

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