Every summer college students get a new billing statement from their chosen college, and every summer the total amount due increases. The envelope may be skinny, but the amount of cash students are expected to send back is a big, fat wad. Most students know there is a tuition increase every year, but most do not know exactly how much it is ahead of time.
Marianne Portier, a senior at Millsaps College, admits, "I don't know [how much tuition increased], but I bet you it's an assload!"
Colleges are eager to increase their prices, but they haven't really informed the students of their increase, or more importantly, why they are soaring. Portier, 21, explains, "I really don't know what the money is going to. I don't see much change on campus except the flowers."
At Millsaps, tuition increased from $8,673 per semester to $9,193 per semester. The total cost increased an average of 6 percent. Louise Burney, vice president of finance at Millsaps College, explains: "Tuition increased to help cover a portion of the rising costs of the college … particularly salaries, health insurance costs, utilities, liability and property insurance costs, technology upgrades, new programs and initiatives … and also the general increase in all of our costs due to inflation."
Other Jackson-area schools saw equal increases. Jackson State University's tuition increased from $3,612 per semester to $3,841 per semester, which is an increase of 6.3 percent. Belhaven College's tuition rose almost 5 percent—from $6,100 to $6,400 a semester for full-time students. Tougaloo College saw a similar rise, with its tuition rising from $3,875 to $4,070 this year. This 5 percent increase is considered, though, when re-issuing scholarships each year.
Adrienne Walls, the bursar for the Tougaloo Office of Finance and Administration, asserts: "Scholarships do increase to match the increases in tuition. If you have a full scholarship, you will get it no matter how much tuition increases."
Mississippi College increased less than these, but the rise is still substantial. Its tuition saw a 3.8 percent increase from $5,444 to $5,600 for the 2004-2005 school year.
Some colleges do not adjust scholarship rates when changing tuition prices, so students find it difficult to cope with this constantly higher cost of an education, especially since the Bush administration has frozen or cut the maximum Pell Grant (despite a 2000 campaign promise to increase it to $5,100).
Portier says: "I pay for college myself, so I guess I'll just take out more loans. There is a limit to how much you can borrow in loans though. When I graduate, interest rates are going to eat me alive."
Sarah Nichols, the college board spokeswoman for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, says there are many ways to pay for college. "Many students are not aware that they could be eligible for some form of state financial aid. Whether the Pell Grant, MTAG (Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant), or MESG (Mississippi Eminent Scholars Grant), students need to research the types of financial aid available. The IHL Web site http://www.mississippiuniversities.com/financialaid is a good starting point," she says. "Also, each university's financial aid department is available for one-on-one financial aid counseling, and will help students find ways to finance college."
Patrick James, director of financial aid at Millsaps College, says: "We review each student's file individually and award financial aid packages to the maximum amount allowable by federal laws and regulations. We encourage any student having difficulty with funding to come to our office so that we can discuss all options available to them."
Georgia Fyke, a sophomore at Belhaven College, offers a simple way to get more money when you are applying to Belhaven. She says: "It's not much, but I know you can get $1,000 more for your four years if you just come to visit the campus. That's only $250, but that's not bad just for coming to visit when you should do it anyway."
Fyke and Portier both agree it would be nice, though, if the scholarships were raised accordingly with the tuition hikes. Fyke asserts: "When they say full tuition, they should mean full tuition. It should raise with the cost of tuition."
"Exactly," Portier says. "When you work your ass off for four years, your reward shouldn't be more mail from Sallie Mae or bigger debt payments."