OPINION: College board’s budgetary decisions keep African Americans further behind

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Many have heard the expression, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Despite the bankruptcy of that idea, many Black Mississippians go about their lives ignoring the day-to-day and year-to-year actions of the college board which are hurting them. Example of this include the recent budget allocations for the public universities and the heightened student fees that it approved.

University Budget Allocations

At its April meeting Thursday last week, the college board approved the budget allocations for the eight public universities. It was the normal follow-up from the recent legislative appropriations. Overall, there was a decline in funds. Our focus here, however, is on allocations for education and general campus funds, which increased from $401,832,908 to $416,045,494.

The allocations for fiscal year 2024 were as follows, showing the amount allocated to each university and its approximate percentage of the overall education and general budget.

Alcorn State University;  $23,023,876; 5.5%

Delta State University; $22,876,493; 5.5%

Jackson State University; $43,530,026; 10.5%

Mississippi State University; $105,594,303; 25%

Mississippi University for Women; $18,319,091; 4.5%

Mississippi Valley State University; $15,776,170; 4%

University of Mississippi;  $95,362,444; 23%

University of Southern Mississippi; $91,563,091; 22%

These figures perhaps surprise very few people who are familiar with Mississippi’s system of higher education. For at least the last 50 years, Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi have ranked one, two, and three in terms of funding and that the three historically Black universities combined have only received in the neighborhood of 20% of the state allocations.

If one looks back to fiscal year 1973, he/she can see that the state universities ranked as follows in terms of state allocations.

Mississippi State University ranked number one, receiving $9,288,612 or 23% of the allocation.

The University of Mississippi ranked number two, receiving $8,903,706 or 22% of the allocations.

The University of Southern Mississippi ranked number three, receiving $7,878,558 or 19.5% of the allocations.

Jackson State University ranked number four, receiving $4,568,550 or 11.3% of the allocations.

Delta State University ranked number five, receiving $2,835,736 or 7% of the allocations.

Mississippi University for Women ranked number six, receiving $2,782,239 or 7% of the allocations.

Alcorn State University ranked number seven, receiving $1,998,207 or 5% of the allocations.

Mississippi Valley State University ranked eighth, receiving $1,976,493 or approximately 5% of the allocations.

It was those fiscal year 1973 figures that led in large part to the filing of the Ayers vs. Waller lawsuit on behalf of Black plaintiffs, and the historically Black institutions that basically served them. Placing the 2024 and 1973 figures side by side shows that the so-called Ayers Settlement did not solve the problem. The historically Black universities this month were allocated just 20% of the funds. In fiscal year 1973, fifty years earlier, they were allocated 21.3% of the funds. That is a backwards move.

An aside, but by no means minor story, is what continues to happen with the agriculture programs at Alcorn State and Mississippi State. Rather than closing the gap that had historically existed since Mississippi State joined Alcorn as the second land-grant institution in the state, one can see today that MSU receives 92.2% of the agriculture funds, leaving Alcorn with just 7.8%. Even if and when the College of Veterinary Medicine is treated separately from Mississippi State, Alcorn State University receives only 10% of the agriculture funds.

While few are paying attention, the historically Black universities are falling further behind. This creates the need for action regarding Black educational opportunities, all over again. Left unchecked, the funding disparities between the historically Black and predominately white universities are likely to continue increasing, to the detriment of Black students.

The disparate funding problem, among other things, makes it difficult for the Black institutions to: attract top-flight faculty members, offer more attractive and competitive curricula and programs, provide scholarships in academics and athletics, meet accreditation standards, and expand and maintain modern equipment and facilities. Without such abilities and capacities, the institutions will continue to decline and eventually close.

 Student Fee Increases

On the other side of the ledger, because such a large percentage of Black students come from working-class families, it is important to pay attention to the rising cost of a college education. Rather than endorsing the idea of a tuition-free college education, the college board is comfortable with increasing the cost of college virtually every year. 

As in previous years, this year the college board approved increases in room, board, and residential and non-residential tuition. It went even further to approve student activity fees at Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University.

The board and staff attempted to “justify” the increases by indicating that Mississippi has lower residential tuition and rates of fees than Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Such a display is shown to be merely for publicity if and when it does not account for the other, differing economic factors in those states, such as wages and salaries, cost of living, and state revenue bases. It proceeded to authorize the following increases.

Resident Tuition increase requests include: JSU – $250, MSU – $471, MUW – $226, UM – $180, USM – $278, and UMMC – $360. This takes all of the universities above $7273. Non-Resident Tuition increase requests include: JSU – $1,250, MSU – $1,136, MUW – $226, UM – $528, USM – $278, and UMMC – $1,056. Those increases take all of them above $7,273. Room Rate Increase requests include: JSU – $181, MSU – $278, UM – $302, and USM – $298, taking all of the universities rates above $4,548 for the double occupancy rooms. Board Rate increase requests include: ASU – $62, DSU – $110, JSU – $368, MSU- $218, MUW -$175, UM – $220, and USM – $220, taking all of universities above $3,792 for the most expensive meal plans.

It also needs to be noted that these fees are in addition to Capital Improvement, Technology, and Student Activity Fees, which are exacted by each university. (This is another way to “nickel and diming” students above and beyond expressed tuition, room, and board.) These fees range from $20 for Activity Fees at MVSU to $170 for Student Activity Fees at JSU. The aggregate of such fees appears to range from $110 at USM to $680 at ASU.

It should be obvious that the more these fees increase, the fewer working-class students will be able to enroll and remain in college. Many will settle for institutions that are bare-bones in terms of job training programs, community colleges, military service, or some other option that is less expensive than the universities. While we are not disparaging any of the options, the state should make every effort to enable worthy and capable students to take advantage of a college education at ASU, DSU, JSU, MSU, MUW, MVSU, UM, or USM. It can afford it and will need the brainpower, not tomorrow but yesterday.

One ought to, especially, be concerned that African American students are being put at a disadvantage in terms of higher educational opportunities by disparate university funding and rising tuition and fees. None of their families were paid reparations and now they are being short-changed. 

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OPINION: College board’s budgetary decisions keep African Americans further behind

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
May 1, 2023