EDITORIAL: University funding

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi universities’ trustees took expected action on Monday in raising tuition for the fall semesters 2010 and 2011 because state budget cuts leave all eight institutions in a distressed financial situation.
The average 6.8 percent and 6.9 percent increases will raise costs over two years by an average of $677 per student, to $5,429.
The nominally good news is that tuition at Mississippi’s eight public universities remains less costly than at most peer institutions in the southeast, including most flagship universities in the states bordering Mississippi. Resident tuition at Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Southern Mississippi is about $5,100. It is higher at most peer schools in surrounding states.
The more discouraging news is that the state’s share of funding the eight universities is declining, which financially squeezes all the schools, requiring that the funds be found from other sources like tuition or that reductions and efficiencies be made.
The pain of higher student costs will be paralleled by job and degree terminations at all eight Mississippi schools:
– 389 filled positions eliminated by 2013;
– 653 vacant positions eliminated;
– 28 programs, 49 degrees, and 33 departments eliminated.
All the schools have been or are restructuring for internal efficiencies.
This week, for example, the University of Mississippi announced that a vacant upper-level administrative position won’t be filled and that several administrators will take on additional duties but with no increase in salary.
The state’s percentage in support of the universities has declined sharply since the mid-1990s, from 36 percent in 1996 to less than 30 percent, even into the mid-20s, in the 2010 budget year.
Every reduction in state support adds pressure to find non-state resources: tuition, endowment income, grants, and annual giving by supporters. The task is made harder by a recession.
The universities are planning for a total cut of $182.5 million through the next two fiscal years. Tuition increases will offset 36 percent of those reductions; cuts to the universities’ programs, faculty and staff make up the rest.
The potential for damage to the quality of each university is undeniable, and that possibility should be openly and honestly discussed at today’s 10:30 a.m. universities legislative budget hearing in Senate Room 216, Mississippi Capitol.
The House’s passage of budget cut restorations on Tuesday would lessen the blow to the universities but only by a fraction.
At some point in the near term the issue will reach beyond how much more can be cut to which universities can or should survive.