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Mississippi’s public universities explained in 7 charts

More than ever, Mississippians are paying a premium for a public university education.

For some graduates, getting a four-year degree is a crucial step toward getting a job, while others are left with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, no matter their degree.

The growing divide comes as more Americans, especially those who identify as politically conservative, are questioning the value of traditional higher education. In Mississippi, politicians like State Auditor Shad White have picked up on this skepticism by calling for state lawmakers to defund certain college majors that, according to a recent report by his office, are unlikely to lead graduates to high-paying jobs in Mississippi.

Education experts in Mississippi like Toren Ballard, a policy expert at Mississippi First, said earlier this year that proposals like White’s don’t take into account that college students are rational and are already accounting for the cost of a four-year degree when they decide what to major in.

Here’s what that looks like for Mississippi families today, compared to just 20 years ago.

One reason often cited for why the cost of college has ballooned is the Great Recession. Across the country and in Mississippi, lawmakers slashed state funding for higher education, and colleges responded by hiking tuition and passing the loss onto students. Today, half of Mississippi’s public universities take a larger share of their revenue from tuition than state dollars while, on average, it’s the opposite across the country.

Though universities are charging higher and higher tuitions, students are increasingly choosing to attend Mississippi’s three most expensive universities over the rest, a trend that will continue to cause more strife for higher education officials as the state’s traditional pool of students is poised to decrease.

One reason for the increasing share of students attending Mississippi’s three high-activity research institutions could lie in student demographics. White students in Mississippi, by and large, enroll in the state’s predominantely white institutions. Black students also attend predominantely white institutions at higher numbers than they do historically Black universities.

Student demographics, and institutional financial aid packages, play a role in how much debt Mississippians take on to graduate college.

Mississippi’s high-activity research universities employ far higher numbers of white tenured faculty than tenured faculty of color.

And their presidents are among the most well-compensated public officials in Mississippi.

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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