September 18, 2012 10:09:49 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - firstname.lastname@example.org
First, the good news: More students than ever are flocking to Mississippi colleges. The bad news? Enrollment across the state remains relatively flat, with only three of Mississippi's eight public universities showing unduplicated headcount increases in preliminary fall figures, according to a report issued Monday by the state Institutions of Higher Learning.
Mississippi University for Women and Mississippi State University are among those seeing slight decreases in enrollment compared with last fall's unduplicated headcount, which measures each enrolled student once, regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time or enrolled at multiple branches of the same institution.
MUW experienced a 0.4 percent dip in enrollment this semester, with 2,651 students enrolled -- 10 fewer than last year. MSU saw a 0.3 percent drop in enrollment, enrolling 20,365 students this fall, compared with 20,424 students last year.
At East Mississippi Community College, which is governed by the Mississippi Community College Board, enrollment is down as well. The total preliminary headcount for this semester is 5,106 students, a decrease of 3.1 percent, Public Relations Coordinator Jason Browne said Monday.
They expect to see a slight bump in enrollment when EMCC's fall second intensive term begins Oct. 10.
MUW President Dr. Jim Borsig said despite the decrease in The W's total headcount, the college saw a 2.83 percent increase in full-time students, indicating a trend toward fewer students signing on for one or two classes and more students taking heavier course loads to graduate faster.
He said he's not discouraged by the relatively flat headcount.
"I'm encouraged to see the number of students that are taking more courses," Borsig said Monday. "Our goal is to graduate students. Those taking more of a full load will graduate quicker, so I'm pleased. As president, I want to see both unduplicated headcount and full-time equivalents increase, but if I had to pick one, I'd pick full-time equivalents."
MSU officials attributed their headcount decrease to a dip in graduate school enrollment due to reductions in federal research funding and fewer graduate assistantship opportunities.
Statewide, enrollment has continued to trend upward since 1994, but incrementally, with the system seeing an increase of only 457 students this year, bringing the total system-wide enrollment to 80,973 students.
It's a smaller increase than previous years, but still "great news," Dr. Hank Bounds, Commissioner of Higher Education, said Monday in a press statement.
State funding down, tuition up
The enrollment increase comes at a time when state appropriations have been slashed, forcing colleges to make up the difference by relying on ever-increasing tuition rates.
More than a decade ago, state funding accounted for more than half the universities' budgets, with 32 percent coming from tuition, but now, those numbers are flipped, IHL reports. This year, 57 percent of the colleges' budgets will be funded by tuition, with only 37 percent coming from state appropriations.
The result is a statewide tuition hike which went into effect July 1, with the eight universities asking for increases of between 5.5 and 10 percent for in-state tuition and two percent to 10.8 percent for non-residents.
Tuition increased nine percent at MUW and 7.9 percent at MSU.
The University of Mississippi saw a 3.4 percent headcount increase this semester, despite an 8.5 percent tuition increase. Delta State University raised tuition 8.3 percent but still had a 2.9 percent headcount increase, and Mississippi Valley State University enrolled 0.6 percent more students this semester, despite a 7.6 percent tuition increase.
Of the eight universities, MUW remains the cheapest, costing $5,315 per year for in-state students taking two full-time semesters and $14,483 for out-of-state students. In-state students pay $6,264 per year at MSU and non-residents pay $9,565.
But there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
The W, along with several other state colleges, received approval last month to waive out-of-state tuition fees for qualifying students, and though it was too late to use as a recruitment tool for this semester's incoming students, Borsig believes it will have an impact on next year's numbers.
The waiver allows MUW to offer in-state tuition to non-Mississippi residents who live within a 50-mile radius of the college, as well as for other students, including the children of alumni, regardless of where they live.
Tuition waivers may also be offered to students from four nearby Alabama counties -- Lamar, Pickens, Fayette and Tuscaloosa -- as well as to students in Baldwin, Jefferson, Mobile, Shelby and Walker counties, and students in the Tennessee counties of Fayette, Shelby and Tipton.
Borsig said MUW should begin seeing the effects by January, when transfer students arrive for the spring semester.
"Spring enrollment for us is in the 90 percent area of fall enrollment," Borsig said. "We'll just have to wait and see. It's too early to project."
Recruiters from MUW's Office of Admissions are already on the road, visiting high schools, community colleges and college fairs, and though they work year-round to lure new students, this is the height of the recruiting season, Borsig said.
Similar plans are underway at MSU, where campus officials are aiming for an enrollment of 22,000 by 2015.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.