OUR OPINION: Renovation, expansion needs pressing state's universities

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s universities appropriately continue pressing their case for a state bond issue funding identified and high-priority renovations and new construction to handle increased enrollments and evolving academic demands. It all equates to investment in our state’s intellectual capital, which translates to enhanced probabilities of prosperity.
The eight public universities’ trustees on Thursday approve a request for the 2013 legislative session totaling $683.9 million, and the hope is that legislators and statewide leaders will agree to a methodical, multi-year commitment.
In Northeast Mississippi, interest is arguably highest in relation to the proposals for renovations, expansion and new construction at Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi in Oxford, and the University of Mississippi Medical Campus in Jackson, a growing and highly regarded graduate teaching and research campus involving mostly students with undergraduate degrees from all of Mississippi’s universities.
The funding situation for renovations has been so dire that Ole Miss is using part of its tuition budget to renovate Lamar Hall, the former law school building, for classrooms, diverting revenue that is essential for instruction.
The greater tuition burden on parents and students has been unrelenting for a decade or more. Jones and others have cautioned that Mississippi is in danger of pricing higher education out of reach of middle-class families and saddling students with huge long-term college loan debt.
Similar concerns have been expressed by Mississippi State President Mark Keenum, whose main campus enrollment is the state’s largest and in terms of classroom space is bursting at the seams.
MSU and Ole Miss both have built new, high-quality on-campus dormitories, but neither has enough room to accommodate their full enrollment.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is most strongly on record in opposition to an adequate university bond issue, and he needs to hear from students, parents and alumni in support of pressing public university needs.
Legislators, whatever the position of their leadership, are elected to at least hear constituent interests, and to vote for the state’s overall best interests. We believe adequate support for community colleges, universities and the medical campus is high on that list because of the return on investment.
Secondarily, the loss of congressional earmarks, especially effective in the hands of high-ranking Republicans like Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, has not helped in meeting universities’ capital needs.
The universities’ supporters should press for action in the prevailing, favorable bond market.