Building stadiums while hiking tuition

If any university’s baseball facilities have earned an upgrade, it’s got to be Mississippi State. The program has been excellent for many years and routinely draws plenty of fans to Starkville for games.

Help is on the way. The state College Board has approved plans for Mississippi State’s $55 million worth of improvements to its baseball facilities. The school will borrow $30 million and raise $25 million from private donations.

When finished, Bulldog fans will have a new grandstand, concession areas, restrooms, 50 private boxes, a new video board, new locker rooms and concrete pads for its famed left-field tailgaters.

Mississippi State’s ambitious baseball plans are understandable. After all, its rival schools in the Southeastern Conference aren’t sitting still with their stadiums. The need to impress young athletes with modern facilities is intense.

Plans for the improvements to Mississippi State’s baseball facilities surely have been in the works for a couple of years. But the timing of the announcement is about as lousy as it can be, given that the state’s public universities recently announced large tuition increases for the 2017-18 year. Mississippi State’s is rising by 6.9 percent, to $8,318.

The increase is double the normal rate because state tax revenues have been lower than expected for two years. This forced the Legislature to reduce its spending for the coming year. Universities got less public money, so they turned to students to make up the difference.

It’s true that the $30 million State will borrow for its share of the baseball stadium has nothing to do with the state budget. The university is borrowing the baseball money and expects to repay it over 30 years. Obviously the school has figured out how much more money the upgrade will bring in.

Even so, this increased commitment to sports is notable at a time when universities, like other public institutions, face some extremely tight finances. A seven percent tuition increase is a lot, proving yet again that universities are one of the few industries that are immune to the low inflation rates that the country has enjoyed for the past 25 years.

Universities around the state and the country have poured tens of millions of dollars into sports facilities in a never-ending effort to outdo each other. In Mississippi, at least, this gaudiness should slow down until state tax receipts start growing, or at least provide enough money to prevent unacceptably large tuition increases.

Our leaders always talk about the importance of education. What kind of message does it send to sigh about state funding and raise the cost of school seven percent — while borrowing $30 million for a baseball stadium?

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