Or, at least, that was the reasoning when taxpayers paid the bulk of the cost of higher education.
This formula changed over the years as states cut back funding and higher education had to take up the slack with tuition and fees. In short, colleges and universities went from being state-supported to being state-assisted.
That’s why colleges need more students paying more tuition so they can offer the courses and services colleges are expected to offer in the competitive world of higher education.
One way colleges can increase their student population is to stop charging out-of-state students higher tuition.
Realizing this, many states — including Alabama — allow colleges to waive out-of-state tuition for certain students, particularly those who live in counties adjacent to neighboring states. These states realize that the financial benefit a student brings to a college and the town in which it is located is far greater than the financial benefit gained from the higher tuition.
The latest state to arrive at this conclusion is Mississippi.
A bill passed by that state’s Legislature and expected to be signed by the governor would allow Mississippi colleges and universities to waive out-of-state tuition so they could successfully compete against surrounding states for students and their money.
The Mississippi debate on this bill clearly reveals what has happened to the relationship between states and higher education in these days of budget-cutting.
States once provided revenue to colleges and universities so tuition could be kept low (or at least reasonable). Today, states are telling colleges and universities that they must come up with that revenue on their own. And to “help” higher education fill the classrooms and dorms (and stadiums), states have leveled the playing field to allow out-of-state students to attend at in-state prices.
The results are not just predictable, but in some cases are already taking place. Class sizes increase, more adjunct professors are hired, expensive programs are cut, and student options are limited to majors that can pay their own way.
But let’s face it. This is not about education. This is about keeping taxes low and shifting the financial burden to the students and their parents. This is also about bringing revenue not only to the colleges but to the communities where they are located. As study after study shows, students help the local economy in many, many ways.
As the Mississippi politicians promoting this plan point out, many of the students who go out of state to college stay out of state to live. Not only is this a measure to recruit students, it is a measure to recruit educated residents.
So, how will the states surrounding Mississippi respond?
That remains to be seen.