UPDATE: College Board sets deadline for cost-cutting plans

JACKSON — The presidents of Mississippi’s eight universities have until next month to finish plans detailing ways to cut costs on their campuses, including cheaper textbooks, office operations and energy efficiencies.

Later, university leaders will have look at eliminating and consolidating some academic programs.

Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said Thursday there’s no reason to delay the inevitable. He said the university system will likely receive reduced state funding over the next two years because of the economic downturn.

Bounds said he wants the reports presented to the board by Oct. 15.

Bounds said the higher education system could receive funding cuts of up to 20 percent in coming years. Earlier this month, Gov. Haley Barbour ordered a 5 percent funding cut to most state agencies. That was about a $34 million hit to the universities for the current fiscal year.

“It’s not something we can’t ignore. It’s something we have to start planning for right now,” Bounds said during the College Board’s monthly meeting.

Most of the university presidents agreed that consolidating programs and making other efficiencies on campus are needed changes, but they also said there will be resistance.

“It must happen, but it will be difficult,” Mississippi Valley State University President Donna Oliver said. “When the day comes and it may cost someone’s livelihood, their job when you eliminate a program, it’s not going to be easy.”

Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum said he’s been working with faculty and staff to identify areas that could be streamlined.

“It’s pretty jawdropping to be hit with these facts,” Keenum said.

He said he wanted the College Board to act as a shield for the presidents.

“We’re going to be counting on you for that,” Keenum said.

Board members told the presidents they would support them when faculty, staff and others protest against changes.

“A lot of us have waited a long time to see some of these changes come to fruition. We’re talking about transformational changes,” said board member Amy Whitten.

Bounds said finding cheaper ways to operate campuses also will involve restructuring accounting and purchasing systems and conserving energy. He said he wants vendors to compete to do business at Mississippi colleges.

At the same time, university leaders have been told to maintain quality programs and focus on diversity.

In August, University of Southern Mississippi President Martha Saunders identified up to $11 million in cuts that needed to be made in the next two years.

Also in August, Jackson State University and Alcorn State University began working with the Michigan-based Barthwell Group to identify efficiencies and where reductions might be made.

Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press