The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning board unanimously approved Thursday a request by the University of Southern Mississippi to lower non-resident student tuition by 40 percent. The board must give final approval to USM’s request at its October meeting before the change takes effect.

“Recruiting in-state students at the University of Southern Mississippi is a top priority,” said Douglas H. Vinzant, vice president for finance and administration at USM. “But we have to recruit students out of state to raise revenue and make programs better for all of our college students.”

The current annual non-resident tuition at USM is $16,094. The school requests that by fiscal year 2018 non-resident tuition be decreased to $9,854. Out-of-state tuition at the University of Mississippi is $20,574 and $20,032 at Mississippi State University.

USM enrolled 14,551 students in fall 2015. According to the Institutions of Higher Learning, USM’s enrollment for fall 2016 showed no increase. Enrollment at the state’s other public colleges and universities this fall increased from 0.1% at Jackson State University to 10.7% at Mississippi University for Women.

Several non-resident tuition waivers have been granted by the board in recent years. Delta State University received approval for a waiver that took effect in fall 2013. Mississippi Valley State University had a waiver effective summer 2013. Alcorn State University’s waiver was effective last fall and instituted single flat tuition rates for all in-state and out-of-state students.

In fiscal year 2015, MUW decreased non-resident tuition by 0.7 percent. However, this fall, MUW increased its non-resident tuition by 3.2 percent. Between 2000 and 2016, many of the state’s public universities increased non-resident tuition.

Out-of-state tuition waivers have been granted for military service at several universities.

In August 2015, USM began offering waivers to non-resident students from targeted geographic markets.

Historically, USM has recruited within the same strict region, says Vinzant.

“We’ve examined Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and the Florida panhandle. But the state of Texas graduates annually more students than Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia combined,” he said.

That offers a significant opportunity, he said.

Board member Tom Duff questioned how the new recruitment approach would benefit in-state students.

“Out of state (tuition) covers more than the marginal costs of what it takes to offer the additional education and services that they represent,” explained Vinzant.

If the university does not attempt this new recruitment approach, the only other options are to “have an infusion of state appropriations or to increase in-state tuition drastically,” he added.

Vinzant expects it will take a few years to measure the success of the new approach.

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Ashley F. G. Norwood, a native of Jackson, earned a bachelor's degree in English from Jackson State University and a master’s degree from the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. Norwood, who specializes in multimedia journalism, has been recognized nationally for her documentary film the fly in the buttermilk, which covers the history, perceptions and principles of black Greek-lettered organizations at the University of Mississippi.