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School faces tuition increases, no pay raises for faculty

MSU’s diverse funding helps school through budget cuts

MISSISSIPPI STATE — A diversity of funding sources means that Mississippi State University has been less impacted by state budget cuts than many of the state’s other institutions of higher learning.

“The diversity of the institution in terms of its revenue sources helps mitigate the impact of the state budget crunch,” said Joe Farris, MSU director of university relations.

“The university obtains a lot of funding from contracts, research grants and private gifts. Then there are self-generated funds from a number of sources. The size and diversity of the activities here and the research and public service programs that produce revenue from sources other than state funding make us less dependent.”

The state College Board has been discussing tuition increases for next year. And, considering the continuing budget problems that are expected to affect higher education, a tuition increase is considered a high probability. A tuition increase would help offset budget reductions.

Anticipating budget cuts has also been helpful. Farris said MSU started planning for possible budget cuts in the fall of 2000 when revenues predictions first began to drop off.

“In anticipation of a budget reduction, the university adopted a plan to prepare,” Farris said. “A major component of that was to leave positions vacant when vacancies occurred. And, in some cases, we eliminated positions. We started doing that last fall. To this point have eliminated about 200 non-academic positions.”

Part of the philosophy from the beginning in dealing with the funding cut was to protect teaching and research, so the cutbacks were made in support areas such as custodial work.

MSU’s budget reduction of 5% amounted to $5.8 million. Not filling the 200 vacant support staff positions covered more than half of that amount. Vacant faculty positions have continued to be filled. The remainder of the budget shortfall was made up in reducing travel costs and equipment purchases.

“We took a very austere approach to travel, particularly out-of-state travel,” Farris said. “We also cut a variety of other things. We have continued to have a very cautious approach toward filling positions. It might be going too far to say we have a hiring freeze. But every position that becomes vacant is analyzed rather than being automatically refilled. We’re taking a reserved and cautious approach. and many positions are not being filled. A lot of positions will remain vacant until things look better, whenever that is.”

Like other universities, Mississippi State is anticipating more budget cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Mississippi Legislature appropriations represent an 8.3% budget cut statewide throughout the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL). The IHL board will decide how to allocate funds among separate institutions.

Farris said morale at Mississippi State has been remarkably good given the circumstances. “The fact that the university anticipated the reduction and planned ahead for it made it much more manageable than it would have been if we had tried to deal with it all at once when the reduction was mandated,” he said. “Anticipating the cut and starting early made it a lot easier than it otherwise would have been. And

President Mac Portera has been very outspoken throughout the process about his commitment and the institution’s commitment to not letting this stop our progress. He has maintained we are going to look for ways to get the job done, and are not going to get down about it. Of course, not to minimize difficulties, it has been hard to take $5.8 million out of the budget.”

Going two years without a pay raise is tough for staff to take, and the budget problems combined with lack of a pay raise could have an impact on recruiting talented new professors.

“Losing faculty is a continuing challenge,” Farris said. “Typically every year, roughly speaking, we have about 60 or so new faculty members. I don’t know if we can really say from a statistically significant standpoint that more faculty have left this year than in a normal year. Competent people are always getting good job offers from other places.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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