EDITORIAL: University reforms

By NEMS Daily Journal

Supporters, students and employees of Mississippi’s eight universities know from nine months of cautions that each of the schools is under great financial stress because of state budget cuts, but few are fully prepared for the forecast offered Thursday by Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds.
Bounds, meeting with the Daily Journal’s editorial board, said the universities face the next two budget years with prospects of less money than a decade ago.
Cumulative three-year cuts will strap every university, smaller ones to a greater degree in relation to total spending, and the state’s funding level likely will be $45 million less in 2012 than in 2000, and the per student spending will be $1,000 less.
Further, the cumulative three-year reduction in fiscal year 2012 will be 25 percent of state support, and painfully large in single-year amounts on every campus.
Bounds, who became Institutions of Higher Learning chief in the summer of 2009 following his service as state superintendent of education, said the changes required by such austerity soon will become explicitly apparent at every school and taken together, dauntingly visible:
• 1,200 fewer employees, including some tenured faculty;
• 49 fewer degree choices; 850 fewer courses; fewer departments; combined, consolidated or realigned colleges and schools; and, larger classes with 1,000 fewer individual class “sections” offered across the system.
In 2012, the individual reductions compared to appropriations for 2010 are projected by campus, with amounts in part related to size:
• University of Mississippi, $30.5 million.
• Mississippi State University, $36 million.
• Alcorn State University, $7 million.
• Jackson State University, $14.5 million.
• University of Southern Mississippi, $31.2 million.
• UMW, $5.3 million.
• Delta State University, $8.1 million.
• Mississippi Valley State University, $5.5 million.
Each university will make announcements of decisions about curriculum, cuts and efficiencies.
And, yes, changes are ahead for Mississippi University for Women’s relationship with Mississippi State University. Cost savings will be realized by out-sourcing some of the W’s administrative support work to Mississippi State, under contract. Bounds said the out-sourcing is a “kick the tires” decision to see how using the deeper assets of MSU’s 18,500-student campus can actually help the 2,400-student MUW.
The method to determine realignment was reasonably based on productivity: dollars spent per credit hour, revenue generated, percent of state and external funding for programs under water, importance of the programs, and the uniqueness of the program to each university’s character.
Bounds said every university will be expected to grow its enrollment because enrollment generates revenue, and because Mississippi badly needs to increase the percentage of its population holding bachelor’s degrees and higher.
In costs, students and their families face additional tuition, room and board increases, and all eight schools must increase student retention from the freshman year moving to graduation.
Somewhere ahead – soon, Bounds said – Mississippians must come to grips with the need for additional state revenue, and developing the political will to produce it.
Bounds noted that 25 percent cuts approach the point of “irreparable” harm, a situation our state and its leadership must avoid, even at greater cost to all of us.