Bounds gives legislative leaders dire warning about universities

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds told legislative leaders Tuesday he “is concerned about the future” of Mississippi’s eight public universities if they do not get a bigger slice of the state’s revenue.
“I think that worry could spill over to the economic development opportunities and to the future for our children and grandchildren,” Bounds said in a forceful presentation to the Legislative Budget Committee.
The Budget Committee, which is hearing budget requests from agency heads this week as it works to develop a state budget during the 2013 legislative session, was told that since 2000 the overall state budget has grown 37 percent while during the same time funds to the universities has been decreased 7 percent.
During much of that same time, Ed Blakeslee, chairman of the College Board, said tuition has been increased on average more than 5 percent per year. In 2000, 56 percent of the universities’ funding came from state general funds and 32 percent from tuition. Now 35 percent comes from state funding and 59 percent is garnered from tuition.
The universities asked the Budget Committee for an increase of $72.6 million, or 10.6 percent.
Bounds said the universities have exhausted efforts to look for efficiencies and make cuts.
“I do worry about where we have gone with tuition and where we may have to go if the next decade looks like the last decade,” Bounds said.
Bounds said the lack of funding has impacted the schools’ efforts to recruit top-notch faculty and students.
“We are all only as good as our faculty,” said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, who along with the other universities’ leaders, students and alumni groups, filled the Budget Committee hearing room in the Woolfolk state office building. With salaries at Mississippi State being on average $19,000 per year less than the average at equivalent schools in the Southeast, “We are not going to be able to continue to get those outstanding scientists, teachers to be part of our university,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a member of the Budget Committee, said Bonds gave a compelling argument for more funding for universities to the legislative leaders. He said he and his colleagues hope to help, but said they are having to deal with putting together a state budget that has lost hundreds of millions in federal stimulus funds that propped up the budget in recent years.
“I think Dr. Bounds certainly laid out a strong argument for increasing funding as it relates to other areas of the budget,” Reeves said.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com