EDITORIAL: IHL future funding

The dire outlook for Mississippi’s tax revenue stream intensified Thursday with discussion by the Institutions of Higher Learning board of trustees about 10 percent funding cuts in the 2011 budget cycle and an outlook for 20 percent cuts in fiscal year 2012, which begins in 2011.
Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds, a new hire from the state superintendent of education’s position, continued to draw strong favorable comments from the universities trustees’ for his pre-emptive work on almost certain painful decisions.
Bounds, who began work in July, has already dealt with a 5 percent across-the-board cut for education K-IHL in the 2010 budget cycle, which ends June 30, 2010.
IHL governs the University of Mississippi and its medical campus, Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi, Delta State, Mississippi Valley, Jackson State, Alcorn State and MUW.
Gov. Haley Barbour and many legislators in both parties earlier warned that the end of federal economic stimulus funding – which includes a broad spectrum of state government spending and is scheduled after the 2011 budget cycle – will leave an unresolved and huge gap between available or anticipated funds and spending as approved at the beginning of the 2010 budget.
About $80 million will be cut in 2011 from the $792 million appropriated for 2010.
Mississippi has eight tax-supported universities, but their reliance on state funds plus tuition varies, and those more reliant on appropriated funds probably will feel a greater pain.
It’s expected from Thursday’s discussion and earlier meetings that academic programs, which could mean the variety of degrees and majors offered, will be reduced, probably at every university.
We agree with Trustee Aubrey Patterson, a Tupelo banker. Patterson advocates, with others, eventual funding of the universities at the average appropriation per student of their peer institutions in the Southeastern region. He says dealing with the budget outlook will make all the universities stronger when larger appropriations resume.
Bounds, to his credit, is beginning with a strong effort to consolidate some administrative functions systemwide and initiate other, similar efficiencies. Tradition and labels have nothing to do with the efficient general running of universities, and savings under unified operations should be put in place whenever practical – and necessary.
In addition, the pride of ownership in academic programs usually is justified, but Mississippi can’t afford sacred cows. A quantitative measure of necessity and effectiveness should be devised to justify sustaining, eliminating or restructuring every academic program, across the board.
Adversity strengthens acts of necessity, which can lead to long-term benefit. The College Board is headed in the right direction in dealing straight-on with funding and the future.

NEMS Daily Journal