3Qs: Hank Bounds, commissioner of higher education

By NEMS Daily Journal

Legislators could not reach agreement during the just-completed 2012 session on a bond bill to fund long-term state construction projects, renovations and repairs. Hank Bounds, state commissioner of higher education, answered questions from the Daily Journal’s Bobby Harrison on how that affects state universities.

Q. What was the total bond request by the eight public universities? Can you talk a little about the specifics in the request?
A. The total bond request was $110 million, with $96 million included in House Bill 1631. This amount is shared among eight public universities and the medical center. House Bill 1631 included funds for one major building or renovation project and funds for needed repairs and renovations for each campus. The needs included libraries, such as the expansion of Mitchell Memorial Library at Mississippi State University and the renovation and expansion of Fant Memorial Library at MUW. It also included funds for construction for a new School of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which would allow the School of Medicine to increase its class size and train more physicians that are needed badly across the state. The bill also included funds for Phase I for the School of Nursing at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Q. How was it determined what the request of the eight public universities would be?
A. The universities determine their top needs based on a number of factors, including enrollment, program needs and the age and function of older buildings. We are in an extremely competitive higher education market, both for students and faculty. The condition of our facilities impacts our competitive edge and ability to attract students.

Q. What will it mean to the state’s institutions not have any bonds for the upcoming fiscal year? Does it put any projects or buildings in jeopardy?
A. It puts all of the projects in jeopardy. Urgent repair and renovation projects require funds to be taken away from operations and other needs, such as faculty salaries. Faculty salaries in Mississippi were 7 percent below the Southern Regional Education Board average in 2000; the gap has widened to more than 15 percent today. There has been a shift in how higher education is financed in Mississippi. In 2000, 56 percent of higher education funding came from state support and 32 percent from tuition. In 2012, 37 percent of higher education funding comes from state support and 57 percent from tuition. There is a tipping point where the quality of the universities will suffer from a lack of resources necessary to attract top faculty, provide programs needed by future employers or provide the learning and living spaces that students in the 21st century need and deserve.