JACKSON — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Monday the state should consider merging some of its universities to save money.
Barbour, in announcing his budget recommendations, said Mississippi University for Women should merge with nearby Mississippi State University and that Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University be merged into Jackson State University.
Barbour said none of the campuses would close but the proposed mergers would save money by reducing the number of administrative jobs.
The proposed change would leave Mississippi with five public universities rather than the current eight.
Barbour’s consolidation proposal would have to be approved by lawmakers. It is part of his suggested budget for the fiscal year that begins next July 1.
The Democratic chairman of the House Universities and Colleges Committee, Rep. Kelvin Buck of Holly Springs, opposes the Republican governor’s proposal. Buck said Mississippi would hurt its own economic future by limiting higher education.
"While the state is clearly experiencing some of the most difficult times in our modern history, it is not the time to panic and undermine the very economic engine that can greatly enhance our ability to rise above the recession," Buck said in a news release.
The chairman of the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee, Republican Doug Davis of Hernando, said in an interview Monday that he’s willing to consider Barbour’s consolidation ideas. Davis said he wants to talk to College Board members and Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds about how the proposed changes would affect students.
"I’m not willing to say that we will go forward or that we will stop the conversation," Davis said.
MUW is in Columbus and is about 22 miles from MSU in Starkville. Preliminary enrollment figures released by the College Board in September showed MUW has 2,478 students this fall. MUW has a majority-female enrollment, although it has accepted male students since the 1980s. MSU, with 18,601, is the state’s largest university.
MVSU, ASU and JSU are Mississippi’s historically black universities. Jackson State is Mississippi’s lone urban university.
Buck said consolidation would hurt students.
"I would caution that playing politics with the future of young people enthusiastic about the vast possibilities a higher education offers them is the wrong approach," Buck said. "Nor should we allow our past racial errors to again impede our efforts to address today’s educational problems."
Davis said Mississippi faces a "very serious math problem" in setting a balanced budget for the coming year, so he’s willing to consider cost-cutting ideas.
Barbour also proposed that the state’s 152 public school districts be consolidated into 100. He said he would expect the better performing school districts to remain intact while lower performing districts would be merged with others.
"Also in education, let me say that we propose the School for the Arts in Brookhaven be closed and moved to Columbus on the campus of the Mississippi Math and Science School. We hope to find a good use for the campus in Brookhaven," Barbour said.