Bounds: No guarantee on tuition levels for '10-'11

JACKSON — Leaders of Mississippi’s university system promised Thursday to be more efficient during the economic slump, saying the eight schools might save money by sharing administrative duties for hiring employees or making big purchases.

The College Board slashed its own initial budget request before presenting it to lawmakers, asking for a $42.9 million increase for the year that begins July 1 rather than the $260 million increase it originally discussed. That’s an increase of about 5 percent rather than 33 percent.

However, because lawmakers won’t make final budget decisions until next spring or summer, Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds said it’s too early to say whether there will be any tuition increases for the 2010-2011 academic year.

“At the end of the day, I can’t guarantee there won’t be any,” Bounds told lawmakers Thursday.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said the price of tuition is “the question I know I’m going to get asked when I get to the barber shop.”

For the current academic year, the College Board increased tuition for out-of-state students but not for in-state students. Tuition had increased almost every year for in-state and out-of-state students for the previous decade.

Bounds, College Board president Scott Ross and leaders of the universities appeared before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which is starting to plan how the state will spend money during the next fiscal year.

“We are not here to moan and cry,” Ross said.

The 14-member Budget Committee will make initial recommendations in December. The full 122-member House and 52-member Senate will get to vote on a final budget sometime before early April.

Budget Committee members said agencies, collectively, are requesting at least $1.5 billion more than the state is projected to collect in the coming year.

The current state budget started at about $6 billion, but Gov. Haley Barbour ordered nearly $172 million in cuts earlier this month because of lagging tax collections. That was about 2.9 percent of the overall budget. Barbour made the biggest cuts to elementary and secondary schools, community colleges and universities, saying education was receiving record funding while other agencies had lost millions of dollars.

Ross, who served in the House from 1984-92, said he understands lawmakers will have a tough time making budget decisions for the coming year. He said universities will be “proactive” in trying to save money.

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press