Recently, Chancellor Glenn Boyce made appearances at high schools in Jackson. He made sure to visit some of Mississippi’s most expensive private schools that have tuition prices well above in-state prices at our university. Some of the schools he visited include Jackson Prep, Madison Ridgeland Academy and Jackson Academy. Mississippi’s most affluent public schools also received a visit, including schools such as Madison Central and Germantown.
Yet, in the midst of these intentional visits, it appears Chancellor Boyce and admissions have yet to visit Jackson public schools. Perhaps, in these numerous trips to the Jackson metro area since October, they simply “forgot” to coordinate meetings with any of the schools in the entire Jackson Public School District, the second-largest school district in Mississippi.
Either way, the university has made it clear that its primary time and energy will be expended courting its most affluent, well-resourced and whitest prospective students.
Everyone else: you are an afterthought.
The evidence is abundantly clear –– as a whole, the University of Mississippi is not for Mississippians.
The university does not look like Mississippi. The overwhelming affluence and whiteness of our university is a stark contrast to our state.
It is no secret that, historically, Mississippi is the poorest state in the union. Mississippi’s median household income is $42,000. Yet, the median family income of a student at the university is $116,000, the most of any public university in Mississippi and just behind Millsaps, a small private liberal arts college, at $123,200.
In a study on colleges and social mobility, the University of Mississippi ranked last in the state in terms of its producing upwardly mobile students. Only 14% of students were likely to move up two or more income quintiles, the lowest percentage of any Mississippi university. Jackson State was first at 36%.
Mississippi has an African American population of nearly 40%, the most of any state. Yet the University of Mississippi’s African American enrollment stays around 12%. Of course, the university’s claim to civility does little in the face of bimonthly race scandals.
While there are certainly individual actors and programs such as Luckyday and the MOST program that work to make this campus more accessible and inclusive for our less affluent and black students, this should be a mission pushed from the highest office of our university.
As federal and state funding falls, tuition prices rise. (Let us not forget that Chancellor Boyce served as Commissioner of Higher Education and is quite familiar with our rising tuition costs.) This has resulted in the university becoming more and more reliant on nonresident fees.
Laura Hamilton, author of “Paying for the Party,” argues that when universities become reliant on nonresident fees, “public universities start to look more and more like private universities and they have to serve the highest bidders.”
Your average Mississippian looking to attain a bachelor’s degree is never going to be the highest bidder, especially when tuition scholarships are tied to ACT and SAT scores, and the governor-elect intends to continue slashing public education funds.
If Mississippi’s flagship university is truly going to serve the state, then it is time for senior administration to reevaluate their priorities. Even with limited state and federal funding, it is not a question of whether or not the money is going to be spent, but rather who and what it is going to be spent on.
Chancellor Boyce said that “our university is our commitment to serve a wide range of students, whether they arrive needing extra help to manage college-level academics, or if they are exceptional students who need an extra challenge.”
I would love to see our chancellor and our university live up to his own charge. Boyce, here are just a few ideas from a first-generation student like yourself.
Ainsley Ash is a junior public policy leadership major from Meridian, Mississippi.