Following a cut in state and federal funding to the education budget, Southern Miss has been forced to find ways to cut costs while trying to maintain a high academic standard. However, even though students have always equaled a certain dollar amount to the university, Southern Miss is now using students as a way to justify the means.
When the goal of a university is to make a profit, students remain on the losing end. The goal of higher education should be to facilitate education, student development, and enhance leadership potential. The goal of a business is to generate a profit, which is what Southern Miss has turned to as a possible solution for financial insecurity. Higher education is not a business. Businesses can fail, and students are not customers.
The business model of education is not sustainable, especially for a place like Mississippi. The state already struggles significantly with funding higher education. In fact, Southern Miss even cites “a steady decline of state support” in as a reason for the academic reorganization plan in The Plan For Academic Reorganization: Vision 2020 document.
“We have to sell the message that our universities are an investment, not an expense,” Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., President of the Institution of Higher Learning, said when asked about how to gather more state funding.
From a student perspective, college can be an expense. There are many underlying costs associated with getting a college education – textbooks, housing fees, meal plans, and so on. Getting a degree can create a financial burden. However, for some students, college can be seen as an investment – get a degree, pay back loans on time, and be well-off in the future. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for every student.
The business model of higher education is failing, and it’s causing students to fail.
To compensate for a lack of state funding, Southern Miss increased tuition, which leads to students taking out more loans to cover costs. Although Southern Miss remains one of the cheapest public university in Mississippi and tuition increases has been minimal, students who are unable to take out more loans have to take a semester off or drop out of college. The new academic reorganization model can prolong degree plans, making students stay in school longer. It also cuts down on the amount of classes students can take on while also working a job to pay for college. Students previously taking 16/17 hours are having to cut down to 12/15 hours, which means they stay in school longer and therefore pay the university more money.
Southern Miss pushes the “finish in four years” narrative, but students are unable to do that if they can’t cover the financial costs. Tuition increases also lead to students taking fewer hours, which makes them stay in school longer, costing them more money. Students also decide to change their major, work to pay for the cost of attending college, face burn out and need a break from school or don’t want to commit to a major just yet. The “finish in four” plan isn’t a reality for a lot of college students.
Running a university as a business is contradictory to the goal of higher education, which is to create well-rounded leaders who are prepared to enter the professional world. The goal shouldn’t be to turn a profit.
College should be a place where students are able to explore their passions and gain experience in their field. It shouldn’t be a hunting ground for profit generation. The university hopes that increased enrollment will offset tuition costs, but in this way, students are only being seen as a way to justify the means. This isn’t a sustainable model.
Students aren’t the only ones who suffer from the use of the business model, either; it also undervalues professors. Professors are not being adequately paid, and staff are being fired. In 2017, Dr. Bennett laid off 20 staff members following budget cuts.
This begs the question – If this model is so clearly not working, why is it still being used? Something has to give. Education is not only valuable when a profit can be made, and students deserve more than being seen as purely a way to generate profit, especially when it puts them at the losing end.