By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Since 2000, the amount of state funds going to higher education on a per-pupil basis has been dramatically reduced.
Mississippi higher education officials, representing the eight public universities and 15 community colleges, are asking the Legislature to provide their schools an additional $129 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The requests were made this week during the second day of hearings by the Legislative Budget Committee. The 14-member committee will develop a budget recommendation that the 2014 Legislature will use as a starting point for funding state government.
The higher education officials told the legislative leaders that for the state to progress economically more people need education past the high school level.
“It is the best thing we can do to ensure the state is competitive,” said IHL Commissioner Hank Bounds.
For universities, per-pupil expenditures have declined 7.6 percent since 2000 to $9,400 while on the community college level the expenditure dropped 16.8 percent to $3,763. Both now depend much more on tuition and other funding sources.
Community colleges are asking for an increase of 40.5 percent, or $97.4 million, primarily to fund what is known as mid-point. Under a state law, community colleges are supposed to be funded midway between the state-supported per-pupil expenditure for K-12 education and regional universities. The community colleges are currently 37 percent below the mid-point level.
Universities are requesting an increase of $31.8 million, or 4.4 percent. The primary reason is to ensure that no school is penalized by IHL’s change in funding formula. Under the change schools receive additional funds for students who complete their courses.
“At the end of the day, we are much more concerned about what students do to complete than enrollment,” Bounds said. “We’re about moving students through the pipeline.”
Both the community colleges and the universities say a substantial portion of any budget increase will go to faculty salaries. Bounds said salaries for Mississippi university faculty are far below surrounding states.
Eric Clark, executive director of the Community College Board, said in some portions of the state K-12 teachers earn more than community college instructors, making it difficult to recruit community college instructors who are required to have advanced degrees.
Officials also admitted that tuition increases in recent years, in part to offset the cut in state funds, is making college unaffordable for some. Community college officials said a study indicated that about 3,400 people were not in their system because they could not afford the tuition.
In addition, federal tuition assistance is being reduced.
Bounds said a majority of state-supported tuition assistance goes for students in homes with an income of more than $75,000 and there were few state programs to help the truly poor.
“We need a major overhaul of the state financial aid system,” he said.