OUR OPINION: Public universities feel funding pain

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s public university administrators and campus executives could not have been surprised in the Dec. 26 Washington Post report about public financial support’s downward spiral at even the wealthiest and most celebrated of the nation’s tax-funded universities.
The Post’s analytical news feature focused on the University of California at Berkeley and a handful of peer institutions who find themselves in the same dire straits as schools like the eight public universities in Mississippi, whose public support has plummeted as a percentage of the budget, with more cuts proposed.
The Post described the financial situation as “across the nation, a historic collapse in state funding for higher education” threatening to “diminish the stature of premier public universities and erode their mission as engines of upward social mobility.”
In other words, their legs are being chopped from under their role as creators of prosperity and priceless intellectual assets.
The question appropriate to Mississippi: If the consequences are severe for Cal, Virginia, North Carolina and Michigan, what is the similar, measurable impact and forecast for Mississippi’s universities?
Successful capital fund campaigns provide some protection for the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, and to a lesser degree for the other six, but endowments are not supposed to be for operations and upkeep.
They are designed to give an edge for excellence.
How much lower can state support fall as a percentage of total university spending?
Even if overall budgets increase slightly, the percentage from special grants and private-sector gifts makes the increase.
Per-pupil spending in Mississippi universities has fallen dramatically even as public demand has risen. The universities have increased in enrollment every year since 1999.
One way to balance the treasury is through private funds, and the most direct source is higher tuition paid by parents.
It is not unreasonable to expect that tuition will increase each year for most Mississippi university students because the state’s support does not keep up with rising costs – a financial choice and priority made by legislators and the governor.
Mississippi State, Ole Miss and UMMC together generate an annual economic impact of about $4 billion, and any shrinking of that will be felt statewide.
Since the late 1990s, Mississippi universities have received an increasing percentage of their funding from tuition and a decreasing percentage from the taxpayer dollars. This year, the figures are 37 percent from the state and 57 percent from tuition, although state funding for the largest, comprehensive universities is much lower by percentage, in the mid-20s.
Our state will lose billions by mishandling universities.