Private funds’ importance grows in public universities

No other hard facts better measure changes within higher education in Mississippi than the private-sector financial gifts in recent years to the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University.

Since 2010, extending through the 2014 fiscal year at both of the two largest state universities, private donors have given or pledged by contract almost $1 billion combined to UM and MSU.

The gifts range from a few dollars to single contributions measured in millions of dollars by worth and amount.

Private support, given through the universities’ foundations or athletic foundations, has increased dramatically in importance in the past decade as state appropriations have either declined or not kept up with the rising costs of university funding – everything from faculty salaries to capital projects like student housing reflective of 21st century preferences and demands.

MSU officials said last month that the university’s total was a record $106 million, a $25 million increase.

UM officials announced this week that its private giving in Fiscal Year 2014 was $118 million, the third consecutive $100 million-plus year.

All gifts to MSU from 2010 to 2018, are going to the university’s campaign to secure $600 million for its long-range goals. The MSU foundation’s website reports that $434 million has been raised.

The UM total marked a near-record fundraising year (the record was $122 million in Fiscal Year 2012).

In the 2012 edition of “Indicators,” an organization publication, the National Science Board reported a substantial decline over the last decade in per-student state appropriations at the nation’s major public research universities. A companion report, “Diminishing Funding and Rising Expectations: Trends and Challenges for Public Research Universities,” highlights these universities’ rising economic importance, rising public expectations for university education and research, and the challenges posed by recent trends in enrollment, revenue and expenditures.

During the period from 1992 to 2010, state appropriations as a percentage of public research universities’ total revenue fell by 15 percentage points from 38 percent in 1992 to an average of 23 percent in 2010. The 2010 national average is reflective of Mississippi percentages, but the drop has been even greater in our state.

The success of private fundraising for both UM and MSU reflects both the loyalty and success of graduates and past students, and also reflects the value of university educational attainment in the usual measures of success.

MSU President Mark Keenum and UM Chancellor Dan Jones both have said in recent forums that the importance and necessity of private support will not diminish.

The larger Mississippi responsibility in terms of governance and development is bringing jobs to Mississippi that will hold more of the universities’ graduates in the state for the long term.