While nearly every public school in Mississippi gained students this fall, Mississippi Valley State University is blaming a tuition increase for its dramatic drop in enrollment.
The historically Black school in Itta Bena, about 80 miles north of Jackson, lost more than 450 students this fall after several years of record growth.
“You never want to say that, never want to admit that, but we’ve certainly outstripped our financial resources,” said Roy Hudson, Mississippi Valley’s vice president for university relations. “We predicted that at some point we would reach this plateau.”
The University of Southern Mississippi was the only other state school to lose students this fall — a 1.5 percent decrease — but its Gulf Coast campus was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
After growing by two-thirds in less than a decade, Mississippi Valley’s enrollment dropped 12.7 percent between 2004 and 2005, from 3,621 to 3,162. But Hudson said the freshman class this year is larger than last year’s, indicating the problem is retention.
About 98 percent of Mississippi Valley’s students are on financial aid, and more than half are nontraditional, meaning they are older than 25 and likely have jobs or families outside of school.
Tuition at Mississippi Valley increased from $3,158 for a Mississippi resident in the 2001-02 academic year to $4,024 this year. Room and board also increased over the last five years, from $3,103 to $3,946.
Staci Grace, a 26-year-old student from Greenville, had to drop out last semester.
“It has nothing to do with the school,” Grace said. “It’s just financial difficulties.”
Part of the problem, Hudson said, is a lack of funding from the state. While the school’s enrollment increased by two-thirds, its state funding increased by only 10 percent. Other small schools — Delta State University and Mississippi University for Women, for example — receive far more state money, Hudson said.
Numbers released by the College Board show Mississippi Valley received about $12 million this year, MUW about $13 million, and Delta State about $20 million from the state.
College Board made revisions to the funding formula this past spring, meaning Mississippi Valley will get a larger share.
“The question now is, ‘Is it too late?”’ Hudson said.
Mississippi State University in Starkville had the most students at 16,101 _ a 1 percent increase over last year.
Even with the decrease, Southern Miss was second with 15,030 students, and the University of Mississippi in Oxford was third with 14,911 students — a 2.9 percent increase over 2004.
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