The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning announced (at the 27:10 mark of the linked video) that Mississippi colleges are raising tuition yet again this year, even as the conservative U.S. Supreme Court shot down President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student debt and college debt hits new records.
Five out of eight Mississippi institutions are raising rates this year due to inflation. Delta State University, Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University are the only colleges not raising tuition, most likely because those colleges serve the Mississippi Delta, which is too impoverished to support tuition hikes. But the 20-year trend for fee hikes across the nation is making college prohibitively expensive for students.
“I feel like it’s extremely high,” said Delaware State University junior Jahdeja Swan. “I’m an international student, so my tuition is a bit more. I’m at $30,000 a year in tuition, room, and board. My three years will cost me $90k.”
As Black Girl Times reported, tuition for a full-time student at Jackson State University in 1989 was less than $750 a semester. By 2020, that fee was $4,135, for 12 or more hours—a 451% increase. Today, JSU is requesting $8,530 in total charges for tuition and room and board for in-state students; Mississippi State University is requesting $9,600.
The hikes are not even the entire price students face. Many students from impoverished families can’t rely on their families to buy books and additional, unrecorded costs, and these unspoken fees add up quickly over the course of a few semesters. The Pell Grant system, designed to be the great equalizer for low-income students, has diminished in power since its creation in 1973, largely due to ballooning college costs. A program that once covered 80% of the costs of a public four-year college now handles only 30% of prices, according to one analyst. Hungry students quickly snatch up work-study jobs on most campuses, and off-campus work is not always accessible.
The results are painful. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation claims student debt has increased sevenfold over the last two decades, from 1995 to 2017, rising from $187 billion to a jaw-dropping $1.4 trillion. The Education Data Initiative reports average federal student loan debt to be $37,574 per borrower. But that amount can easily surpass $60,000 at Jackson State University, particularly when students take out loans for additional charges and living costs.
That kind of bill can add an extra $400 to a graduating student’s monthly bills, at a time when they are starting their adult lives. And there’s no running from that debt. Students can’t include school loan debt in bankruptcy filings because in 1976, Congress tweaked the Higher Education Act of 1965 to exempt student loans from bankruptcy. They made them even more difficult to duck when they altered the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984 to include private loans backed by nonprofit institutions.
Add to that the fact they exempted school loans from the statute of limitations on defaulted loan collection efforts, making school debt an immortal demon that can potentially cackle behind a student’s back for the rest of her life. Thanks to the signature of former president George H.W. Bush, there are 30-year home mortgages that die quicker than a student’s federal school loan. In fact, you can go to a bankruptcy court and discharge thousands of dollars of Supplemental Security Income overpayments, arising from intentionally misreporting your income (and scamming state government) before you can discharge legitimate school loan debt. That’s how tenacious it is.
Hattiesburg, Miss., mom Ashley McGee Jones said she is acutely aware young people like her daughter are potentially entering the workforce with home mortgage-sized college bills. She argues education costs are stunting many students’ careers before they even begin.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around all that debt for just a 22-year-old,” said Jones. “(The board) raising tuition again does not make me happy, especially since I’m still paying off my own student loans—that makes me very, very unhappy. I’ve been out 13 years and I’m still paying $200 a month.”
Jones said the price of her original loan was about $50,000, with $20,000 of that being interest charges alone.
And fewer and fewer students are seeing the benefit of all that sticky, persistent investment. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports the number of students who withdrew from college without a degree rose 3.6% in the 2020-21 academic year. There are 40.4 million students, up 1.4 million from 39 million in the previous year, who have debt with nothing to show for it.
Students who never finished college are the borrowers in the greatest danger of defaulting on their debt now that the Supreme Court has blocked President Joe Biden's push to cancel $400 billion in student loans. The U.S. Department of Education predicts student default rates could spike as a result of the court decision.
However, young people don’t often vote Republican, and neither do young Black voters. Critics say the GOP and their pocketed Supreme Court could simply be retaliating against young college students who came out in droves and derailed the GOP’s effort to claim the Senate in the midterms last year.
The nation will see if young voters return the favor in the next elections.