Mississippi Community College Fees Rise 7 Percent on Average

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Tuition will rise almost 7 percent on average this fall at Mississippi's 15 community and junior colleges.

A student will pay $2,748 for two semesters of full-time classes, on average, up from $2,577 in the 2015-2016 year, according to figures from the state Community College Board.

Thirteen of the independently governed schools will raise charges on students this fall. Tuition will remain flat at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and East Mississippi Community College.

"With declining enrollment and rising utility costs and trying to have competitive faculty salaries, the colleges are trying to do their best," said Kell Smith, a spokesman for the Community College Board, which coordinates the colleges' activities.

Two colleges will cross the $3,000 threshhold for the first time, with Jones County Junior College charging that much and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College charging $3,040. Some schools, though, have held tuition substantially lower. East Central Mississippi Community College will charge $2,330 next year. Neighboring Meridian Community College, which competes with East Central for students, will charge $2,514.

Some colleges raise tuition substantially every other year, and then try to hold it level the second year. That pattern held the average increase to about 4 percent in 2015, but with 2016 a year when more colleges made increases, the typical jump was larger this year.

The increases come as state funding to community colleges falls 2 percent in the budget that began July 1. The decrease of $5 million cuts state aid to $258 million. That's above the $216 million that the colleges received in 2011, when state funding bottomed out after the recession, but less than $263 they got in the now-ending budget year, and significantly less than the level required by state law, which calls on the Legislature to fund community colleges at the cost per-student midpoint between universities and K-12 schools.

"We're always mindful of keeping the expense of attending our college as low as possible for our students," Pearl River Community College President William Lewis said when his college announced its increase last month. "With this modest increase, we'll be able to ensure a balanced budget."

Statewide, though, tuition continues to rise faster than inflation and personal income growth. The dollar amounts each year are small, only $100 or $200 a year. But over time, price increases have hurt affordability. While community college tuition cost 3.1 percent of median family income in Mississippi in 2000, it cost 6.3 percent in 2014.

Many Mississippi community college students pay less than full tuition through a combination of scholarships and financial aid. In 20 of Mississippi's 82 counties, local governments and private donors pay tuition for recent high school graduates who are not covered by other financial aid. Federal Pell Grants typically cover tuition and books for the poorest students. The maximum Pell Grant for the 2016-2017 academic year will be $5,815, enough to cover tuition at any Mississippi community college and leave money for other expenses.


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