June 18, 2009
JACKSON ï¿½ A sharply divided state college board today went with university presidentsï¿½ pleas and voted to raise room-and-board charges imposed on students.
However, the board turned down presidentsï¿½ requests to increase tuition for Mississippi residents in the next school year.
Everything dealing with money is still up in the air because the Legislature hasnï¿½t yet passed a state budget for the fast-approaching fiscal year, but university administrators pressed the board to allow them to raise additional revenues by charging students more to live and eat on campus.
The board adopted the increase in a 6-4 vote.
University leaders said their schools need more money to pay the higher expenses of providing meals and accommodations for students.
ï¿½If weï¿½re not allowed more revenues from auxiliary services, itï¿½s going to put a great strain on our campus,ï¿½ said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum.
ï¿½I want to make sure students have healthy meals and safe, clean rooms,ï¿½ said Mississippi University for Women President Claudia Limbert.
As approved by the board, the campus-rooming rates will increase by a per-student average of about $180 for two semesters at the eight universities. The rent for a two-person dormitory room averaged $3,291 in the past school year and $4,718 for a one-student room.
To eat on campus, the rate will increase by an average of $114 for a student with the most comprehensive meal plan. The meal cost for the past school year averaged $2,238.
In seeking an increase in student-meal charges, MUW reported to the board it needs about $62,000 more to pay the company that runs the universityï¿½s food-service operations. Sodexo gets more money to meet the cost of rising food prices.
MSU reported it needs about $120,000 more for the federally required increase in the minimum wage paid to food-service workers. The university also needs about $84,000 more to pay Aramark for the rising cost of food it serves on campus.
ï¿½We have a mandatory obligation to pay these costs,ï¿½ Keenum said.
However, the four college board members who opposed letting the universities increase campus room-and-meal rates said the schools should absorb those additional costs.
ï¿½I think we have got to take it out of their hides somewhere,ï¿½ said board member Amy Whitten, of Oxford. ï¿½I will not choose to inflict one more penny of costs on (students) right now.ï¿½
Itï¿½s a bad time to make students pay more to attend college when theyï¿½re suffering through an economic recession that has people losing jobs and income, said board President Scott Ross of West Point.
ï¿½Now is not the time to do it. There are a lot of families in this state that are concerned about their employment,ï¿½ he said.
Campus-meal prices have gone up 65 percent since 2000 and housing rental rates have increased by 83 percent, according to statistics Ross presented to the board.
The six board members who favored the room-and-meal rate increases acknowledged the universities need additional revenue, especially since their request to increase tuition for Mississippi residents was turned down.
ï¿½We want to keep the institutions financially healthy as best we can,ï¿½ said Stacy Davidson, of Cleveland.
ï¿½I think our students are willing to pay for that quality,ï¿½ said Christine Lindsay Pickering, of Biloxi, who calculated the rate increase per student to be 90 cents a day.
The Board of Institutions of Higher Learning approved the plan not to raise tuition for Mississippi residents but increase it for out-of-state students. However, this is based on the board staffï¿½s ï¿½what-ifï¿½ assumption the Legislature gives universities a small budget increase that combines state funds with federal stimulus money to total about $400 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. This is about $6 million more than what the Legislature appropriated in 2008 for the fiscal year thatï¿½s near its end.
University presidents had asked for a 4.8 percent tuition increase based on the assumption the Legislature will adopt a small budget cut Gov. Haley Barbour has proposed for universities.
House-Senate budget leaders continue to negotiate a compromise but have said theyï¿½ve reached an agreement to give universities more money.
Based on the assumption of getting this funding increase from the Legislature and federal government, the IHL board staff recommended no tuition increase for Mississippi residents. Theyï¿½ve seen their tuition rates go up by $1,900 since 2000 to the current average of $4,740 for the eight universities.
Ross said thatï¿½s enough for now.
ï¿½I donï¿½t envision a bad-enough scenario to support a tuition increase regardless of the (staff) recommendation,ï¿½ he said.
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