OUR OPINION: Universities make case for more state support

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum recited a familiar lament on Monday in an address to the Tupelo Rotary Club, cautioning that university tuition – at least at MSU – will continue rising if funding is slashed by the Legislature.
Every president of every state-funded university in Mississippi has said the same thing at one time or another because it is factual.
Universities – all eight public ones in Mississippi – can’t afford to absorb continuing state-funding cuts – and shouldn’t be expected to do so.
“We’re already doing a whole lot more with a whole lot less,” said Keenum during Monday’s Rotary Club meeting. “… we may have to adjust tuition.”
We hope legislators are listening to Keenum, but even more importantly to parents of the more than 80,000 public university students in our state, a majority of them Mississippi residents.
What the state refuses to supply, for whatever reason, will come directly from the pockets of parents and/or students.
State funding for Mississippi State has dropped 25 percent over the past five years, Keenum noted, while enrollment has increased 26 percent. Many of the other universities are in similar situations: less money, many more students.
Keenum correctly noted that low public support and low tuition are incompatible with quality. Everything involved in a university education is expensive and increasing in cost: facilities, faculty, equipment and maintenance.
A tuition increase can be avoided if the Legislature places higher education as a high enough priority and provides adequate funding.
None of the universities’ executive leaders want tuition increases, but the reality of the gap between necessity and available money is unavoidable.
Alumni donated $80 million to MSU in 1911, but it’s not all general purpose money. Much is designated funding.
Responsiveness to constituents is part of the responsibility of legislators. If the alumni of all the universities were to act jointly for increased funding, the chances of winning in Jackson would increase.
Mississippi needs the intellectual assets of additional college graduates. Less than 20 percent of Mississippians hold a baccalaureate degree.
Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds has noted, “While record enrollment is great news for our state, it does present challenges. We must ensure that we have the capacity – faculty, facilities and services – to serve our students adequately. Universities must have the resources necessary to provide the highest quality education to our students. Higher education provides the best return on investment for our citizens as individuals and our state as a whole.”
That’s the argument in a nutshell.
We agree.

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