SID SALTER: Private university support offset by state cuts

By Sid Salter

The good news is that during fiscal year 2011, Mississippi State University received private gifts and pledges totaling more than $80.3 million – making 2011 the most successful giving year in the university’s 133 year history, and a 23 percent increase over last year’s $65.1 million in private gifts.
A significant portion of that $80.3 million came in private gifts and pledges to the MSU athletic program in the form of a school-record $37 million-plus to athletics through the Bulldog Club and the Bulldog Foundation. That, in turn, benefits the university’s academic programs as well. The university’s StatePride program – the initiative for student scholarships and faculty support begun by MSU President Mark Keenum when he took the reins – is the joint effort between the MSU Foundation and the MSU Athletics program to provide funds for new scholarships for talented students and financial awards for meritorious faculty university-wide.
The MSU administration is touting the private giving numbers across the board and in this economy, such successes should be highlighted. There are similar efforts at the University of Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi and Jackson State University – as well as at the state’s other four institutions of higher learning as well.
The bad news? MSU, and the rest of Mississippi’s higher education community, will need every dollar they can get.
In the past, universities have been reticent to publicize their successes in raising private dollars. The reason is simple. In some circles in the Legislature, such news has been used as an excuse to even further reduce the percentage of state funding for higher education.
In Mississippi, the general decline in the economy and efforts by lawmakers to tighten budgets across the board resulted in substantial higher education cuts. At MSU, State appropriations for campus operations for FY 2012, which began July 1, are 14 percent lower than the original state appropriation for FY 2010.
Similar cuts afflicted the rest of the state universities.
Keenum, while ecstatic over the university’s private giving successes, said with an eye toward explaining the generosity of MSU friends and alumni: “Mississippi State’s enrollment has surged to record numbers and these private gifts are a response to the university’s vision of producing more college graduates to meet the increasing demands in our state.”
But one shudders to think what would happen without the influx of private dollars.
Mississippi universities have for decades been the beneficiaries of hundreds of millions in federal research dollars through congressionally directed spending. With the current political climate, that source of higher education funding is likewise endangered.
Private dollars help Mississippi public universities remain competitive and to keep more of the state’s best students in state. Those dollars also help reward and retain the best and brightest faculty members.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 662-325-2506 or