Recent economic trends deter graduation

By Emily Davis

Daily Mississippian, U. Mississippi via UWIRE

Economic trends already in place are working against obtaining a university degree.

It has nothing to do with an absence of academic discipline and much to do with funding at the federal and state level, which may terminate university education for too many prospective students.

“We have seen a decrease in money supplied from the state government for the past two decades,” said Larry Sparks, vice chancellor of administration and finance. “All 50 states now require some level of education funding from the federal government.”

Ole Miss has created alternatives to help students achieve and excel through education.

Larry Ridgeway, vice chancellor of student affairs, said the last freshman class increased by eight percent and is expecting to see another increase this fall.

“The University of Mississippi has seen a continual increase in enrollment,” Ridgeway said. “Last fall, the freshman class increased by eight percent and we expect another increase this fall.”

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, universities nationwide are seeing a drop in graduation rates.

However, the U.S. is now ninth in the world for citizens who actually hold a college degree, President Barack Obama said in the State of the Union address on Jan. 25.

The government has made budget cuts in order to reduce the national deficit and pull the states out of the recession.

In the process, Obama’s budget plan for 2011 causes education to suffer in order to fund entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

State governments have seen budget shortfalls and have responded with cuts in higher education. The University has a total revenue budget of $423.3 million for the 2010 fiscal year, according to its released statistics.

Only 18 percent of that requirement is covered by state tax dollars, according to those statistics.

Tuition and fees are expected to rise even as state funding decreases, Ridgeway said.

“State money now comes in the form of direct payments to students as financial aid,” he said. “The burden has been moved from the taxpayers to the users, from appropriations to tuition fees,”

Tuition payment is the largest source of funding for Ole Miss, making up 33 percent of the University’s revenue according to the information released by the University.

For its part, the federal government has stepped up in offering Pell Grants to students whose family income is less than $30,000 a year.

“Although Pell Grants do not cover all the tuition, they help lower the cost for families at the lower end of the economic spectrum who are still struggling,” Ridgeway said.

According to Sparks, as the national economy suffers and tuition costs increase, Ole Miss, like other universities across the country, is seeing an increase in students looking for financial aid while less assistance is being supplied from the government.

“A few years ago, Pell Grants were available to students who wanted to enroll in summer sessions, but not anymore,” Ridgeway said. “Now they are only available to students during the fall and spring terms.”

For some students unable to afford major universities, community colleges have become more appealing.

Northwest Community College in Southaven has partnered with Ole Miss and is involved in helping students finance their education at a lower cost.

“I chose to attend a community college because they offered less expensive courses and I could still technically graduate from Ole Miss,” Sarah Nahhas, a junior business major at Northwest Community College, said.

The University created a partnership and they share the campus, but funding is separate and unique, Sparks said.

Students can acquire an associate’s degree by taking courses below the 300 level at the community college for lower costs, then finish their education through Ole Miss at the Southhaven campus.

“Chancellor Sparks has created the Ole Miss Opportunity Program that is available this year for the first time,” Ridgeway said. “It bridges the gap for tuition and housing that is not already covered by the Pell Grant,”

In addition to the Pell Grant and other federal funding, Ole Miss has offered other forms of scholarships such as the Mississippi Tuition Grants Program and the Scholars Program since 1995.

“The economy is growing but progress is measured by the success of our own people by the jobs they can find and the quality of life they acquire,” Obama said in the 2011 State of the Union address.

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