EDITORIAL: Academic rewards

Lean financial times and declining state support require innovative solutions for public universities to keep pace with the need to make a university education within reach of students from families of modest means – and to reward faculty members for good work when salary increases aren’t in the pipeline.
Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum started a program called StatePride at his 2009 inauguration, pledging to raise $100 million in private support for student scholarships and faculty stipends.
This week, the first faculty awards were announced – $2,500 each for 400 MSU teachers – a $1 million payout from the $42 million so far raised toward the $100 million goal. StatePride this week also will award $1 million in student scholarships for this fall semester.
The faculty awards recognize outstanding performance in teaching, research and service, the university’s official three-part mission.
“The faculty are the heart of Mississippi State and we need the best professors to mentor their colleagues and guide our students in order for Mississippi State to meet the needs of a growing student population,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum.
Keenum continued, “Mississippi State’s record enrollment of over 19,600 students means we must continue to gain ground in these crucial areas and retain our distinguished faculty by recognition of their accomplishments and support of their teaching and research endeavors in a time without competitive state salaries.”
Financial support of faculty awards and scholarships comes from StatePride gifts and pledges, and, notably, from matching funds provided by MSU’s intercollegiate athletics income. Gifts from private donors, coupled with an athletic match, make up an individual’s $2,500 faculty award.
Better still, the university anticipates faculty award selection for exceptional performance again in 2011.
The StatePride program, like the Ole Miss Opportunity Scholarships, steps outside the box to make a university education possible for students whose families otherwise could not afford the constantly rising costs. The University of Mississippi program closes the gap between other scholarship and grant funds to fully fund the basic costs for every qualifying student.
The situation for higher education in Mississippi is not financially promising. All eight universities are prepared for additional funding cuts in the 2012 state budget cycle. Sharper details of the revenue picture will emerge this week with meetings in Jackson of the Legislative Budget Committee.
Already noted is a decline in the number of state employees outside public school teaching and universities staffs, but both of those also have been reduced by the financial squeeze.
In the end, empowering university educations is a sure way to improve Mississippi’s economy.

NEMS Daily Journal