Tuition to rise by 5 percent

JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State University officials raised undergraduate tuition by 5 percent on Tuesday to avoid a $2.7 million deficit in the next fiscal year.

Students can expect to pay an extra $15 per credit hour starting this fall from the price hike. University officials said the increase will cover rising operation costs and isn’t tied to the March 19 tornado that damaged parts of campus.

The Jacksonville State University board of trustees approved the tuition hike during its regular quarterly meeting Tuesday.

“Costs go up naturally,” said JSU President John Beehler. “People need raises and the cost of new technology goes up.”

The board didn’t increase tuition last year, unlike many other universities in the state, but did raise some fees.

“We were one of only two institutions in the state that did not have a tuition increase last year,” said Chairman Ronnie Smith. “We always try to avoid tuition increases.”

The tuition hike was included in the university’s approximately $133 million budget for the 2019 fiscal year, which the board also approved Tuesday. University officials noted that even with the 5 percent bump, JSU will still operate with about a $50,000 deficit in the new fiscal year. Also, projected tuition revenue was based on student enrollment remaining flat in the upcoming school year.

A 35-member committee that included faculty and students recommended the tuition hike to the board.

It also specifically recommended that tuition remain unchanged for graduate students.

Beehler said JSU graduate tuition was already relatively high compared to graduate programs at similar universities. Keeping the graduate tuition flat will keep the program competitive and hopefully help grow enrollment, he said.

Beehler said that the university will look for cost savings to help avoid more tuition bumps in the near future.

“We’ll have a consultant coming in to evaluate our structure and what level of employees and compensation we need across campus,” Beehler said. “There could be a substantial cost savings since employees account for a large portion of our costs.”

Also during the meeting, the board gave Beehler the authority to seek engineering and architectural firms to evaluate the condition of Merrill Hall and make recommendations of its possible razing and replacement.

The tornado practically destroyed Merrill, which housed the finance, economics and accounting departments.

“We’re not trying to say that Merrill has any higher priority than anything else on campus, but we’ve all recognized the devastation of Merrill,” Smith said. “We know that insurance issues have to be resolved, but we want to encourage progress on the project.”

The board also agreed to open a $15 million line of credit for 24 months with Regions Bank to help with immediate tornado recovery needs.

“This is cash flow management,” Smith said of the credit. “We have expenditures that we have to make that we will get reimbursed for from insurance and other sources, but there’s timing issues to that.”

The board learned in a committee meeting Monday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency could approve JSU’s request for disaster relief money as early as next week — money JSU might not get for at least a year. The university is facing at least $11 million in out-of-pocket costs related to the tornado recovery that federal aid would cover, including tree removal and renovations of the former Kitty Stone Elementary to house the finance, economics and business department.

University officials also informed the board Monday that Pete Mathews Coliseum, also damaged by the tornado, will reopen on Nov. 1. And the tornado has further delayed the opening of JSU’s new baseball stadium until June 30, the board learned Monday.

Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.