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Dwindling state support sparks searches for private funding

The role of private funding is playing an increasing role in helping public universities achieve their higher education missions. Four of Mississippi’s public universities expressed to the Mississippi Business Journal that this role is becoming more important as the percentage of state funding decreases. Representatives of these universities also believe this funding will continue in spite of a slowing national economy.

“Many public institutions depend on state governments for the bulk of their operating support. However, in the last 20 years, states have systematically reduced spending on higher education,” said Linda J. Daniels, director of development for Jackson State University (JSU). “Public institutions are forced to raise tuition and rely more on private support from alumni, friends, corporations, organizations and foundations.”

Feeling the pressure

Other funding pressures include increased institutional investment in student aid, keeping pace with scientific knowledge and updating and maintaining technology, she added. An important strategic objective at JSU is the development and enhancement of research and scholarship.

“For many years, the university had only one faculty endowed chair,” Daniels said. “Through the generosity of a corporate donor, we how have a second, the BankPlus Endowed Chair in Accounting.”

Evangeline W. Robinson, executive director of the JSU Development Foundation, says the Robert M. Hearin Foundation has played a critical role in the academic innovation of the university through the establishment of the Entrepreneurial Scholars Program in the College of Business.

“The entrepreneurial program is the only degree-granting program of its kind in the state and in the Southeast,” she said. “The curriculum is designed to expose students to the challenges and opportunities of new venture startup and/or the management of existing small businesses and franchises.”

The Swalm Foundation established an endowed scholarship to provide assistance for talented students who otherwise could not afford to attend JSU; students who will become the engineers of tomorrow.

It’s been made clear that the size of a private gift does not have to be in the millions to make a big impact. A gift of $400,000 left to Delta State University by the late journalist Wayne Thompson raised the school’s journalism program from one instructor in the language department to a real journalism department.

“One hundred percent of the gift went to the journalism program, and it instantly became one of the best endowed academic units at Delta State. We now have a state-of-the-art journalism lab. Students quickly went from antiquated computers to the best computer equipment,” said Keith Fulcher, executive director of the Alumni Association-Foundation. “Our goal is for each academic unit to be endowed.”

He says more emphasis is now being put on annual gifts through planned giving at Delta State. As state support decreases, the university is analyzing its data base more closely to identify potential donors.

Collier Parker, dean of DSU’s College of Arts & Sciences, points to the Delta Music Institute as an example of private funding. “Private funding is indispensable for this world-class facility,” he said. “The seed money was given by Fred Carl of Viking Range, and we never would have had it without that even though we now have some state support.”

The sound recording facility, stage and music industry program are housed in the recently renovated old gymnasium. The institute is drawing big names in music, largely thanks to director Tricia Walker who worked in Nashville 20 years.

Strong local economy helps

At Mississippi University for Women (MUW), philanthropic support plays an important role in allowing the school to provide a high quality educational experience to students, says Gary Bouse, vice president for institutional advancement and president of the MUW Foundation. This support includes funding for scholarships and faculty and programmatic assistance in several academic programs.

“MUW’s nationally recognized culinary arts institute has received corporate support for scholarships and its cooking laboratory,” he said. “Local and statewide financial institutions have provided annual scholarships. Corporations have also provided sponsorship funds for the university’s annual Welty Gala.”

Bouse is optimistic that a strong local economy along with the positive economic development outlook in the region will continue the constant level of private giving MUW has enjoyed over the past several years.

The new dean of the College of Business at the University of Southern Mississippi quickly observed the crucial role of private giving to help this vital area of the university.

“I benchmark it against Alabama where I came from, and Mississippi’s state appropriations are about half of Alabama’s,” says Dr. Lance Nail. “With that in mind, a higher level of private funding can certainly help us achieve more of what we want to achieve.”

He explained that the university depends on private funding to attract and retain professors in a highly competitive field. “The alumni and business community have been generous with Southern Miss through guest lecturers, donations and sponsorships,” he said. “Private support enhances our programs.”

Recently retired College of Business dean, Dr. Alvin Williams, is working with an alumna and retired pharmaceutical executive, Dr. Beverly Dale, to develop a minority institute at Southern Miss.

“She has been a large supporter, and this program must be done with private funds,” Nail said. “It will foster entrepreneurship and support for minorities with more training and support services.”

Another example of business support is the recent economic outlook conference sponsored by The Peoples Bank in Biloxi. Bank president Chevis Swetman funded and hosted the meeting for the community.

“We’re looking forward to doing a lot more with alumni and the business community,” Nail said. “We’ve found a strong loyal base and a lot of warmth and friendliness here. I think private giving will increase.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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