There's no getting around it: Tuition costs keep climbing. The State College Board voted in May to raise tuition costs at state universities by 5.5 percent—the eighth tuition hike in 10 years. The increase will add an extra $250 or more to tuition fees at universities. Out-of-state students face an even bigger hit at universities, with $710 or more in higher tuition.
The board also voted to tack on a 1 percent utilities surcharge, along with a 5 to 9 percent hike in room and board and a 4 to 8 percent hike in meal plans. Together, these will cost students another $300.
Presidents blame skyrocketing fuel costs, but faculty salary increases play a role as well.
"I don't think I'm going to really feel it, not until graduation," said Philip Jones, a new senior who says he wants to chase an English major at Mississippi State next year. "I know I'll have to take out some loans, but so did my brother, and he's dealing with them."
The report, "The College Cost Crunch: A State by State Analysis of Rising Tuition and Student Debt," from the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, buoyed by information from the National Center for Education Statistics, points out that while costs for a four-year college education have climbed 25 percent since 2000, median family income in Mississippi has increased only 2 percent. Adding to the pain, the maximum Pell Grant in Mississippi covered only 45 percent of the average public four-year college tuition, fees, room and board in 2004-2005—down from 54 percent in 1986-1987. Loans made up only 20 percent of financial aid to students in 1975-76. The average Mississippian living in the Bee Gee years got about 77 percent of their college costs paid for by grants.
"It's beginning to be beyond the reach of a lot of people," said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who is also a financial adviser. "The amount of debt that people have to incur is just very tough. It's not good for the college, the state or the economy to have people coming out of college with that much debt. It's one of the reasons debt burdens, in my estimation, are increasing."
Brown recommended that the state pony up more money to assure a good education for following generations.
"Universities get their money from state appropriations, tuitions and federal funds, but federal funds have decreased and state funds have decreased, so the only thing left is tuition," Brown said. "The U.S. and Mississippi both need to invest more heavily in the future. We worry about buildings and roads and things that are made of concrete, but we're better off in the long run building a better-educated workforce."
Since the generous education grants of the 1970s are long gone, college counselors offer some suggestions for students moving into their first year of higher education.
"Students need to go out and beat the bushes for scholarship money," said Patrick James, director of Financial Aid at Millsaps College. "Check your local Wal-Mart, rotary clubs, churches; Fred's department store has scholarship money. You have to look for it."
James recommended Internet search engines like http://www.fastweb.com, which is designed to search for scholarships.
"Do not go to a pay service, because you can do it for free," James said. "Sometimes they have advertisers coming down to the local Holiday Inn. They say, 'Give us $400 and we'll get you so much financial aid,' but most of those are scams. There may be legit ones out there but why use them if others give it for free?"
Those beginning their scholarship hunt too late may have to just "suck it up," James says.
Jay Allen, dean of enrollment at Hinds Community College, said students sometimes make the mistake of aiming to get the full amount of the loan they qualify for to handle other living expenses.
"What happens so often is students will take out two and three times the price of their tuition to pay for other things, when they could be working to pay for their other costs," Allen said.