OUR OPINION: Jones has larger vision for UM in years ahead

Chancellor Dan Jones described a long-term vision for the University of Mississippi on Monday with the Daily Journal editorial board in which he enunciated a goal of 25,000 students, approximately 3,000 larger than the recently announced 2013 record head count of slightly more than 22,000 systemwide.

Jones said the university wants to enroll every student from Mississippi who applies and has the academic credentials, a sensible policy addressing a disproportionate number of in-state applicants whose scores on the American College Test might be either 16 or 17. Those lower-scoring students, he said, will automatically receive extra academic attention to help them succeed in their coursework. The freshman class composite on the ACT this fall was 24.1.

Jones also noted that intentional retention efforts have raised to 86 percent the number of freshmen returning academically eligible for their sophomore year.

The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College composite was 30.3 on the ACT, with two-thirds of the more than 1,000 students in the program from Mississippi.

Jones’ goals fit a nationally noted trend of universities using revenue from tuition to fund part of infrastructure needs as state support declines in the percentage of total budget support provided. Support for Ole Miss from state resources has dropped in a decade from more than 50 percent to about 14 percent, requiring pragmatic, long-term adjustments. The university’s endowment isn’t large enough to sustain all the expenses for infrastructure, nor is it intended primarily for that. A tuition stream is more flexible in how it’s used.

Jones also noted the abrupt decline in federal funds for capital needs, a category in which Ole Miss and other state universities derived great benefit when the federal pipeline was open.

“If you see a hole in the ground with a pipe sticking out of it at Ole Miss you can be sure it’s funded in part by tuition,” Jones said.

The pattern is similar at other state-supported universities in Mississippi and in many other states. The new financial realities and changing demographics require innovations and the discard of some methods used in running public universities. Jones has adapted to that need, and Ole Miss will be a stronger university in the long term.