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Universities looking to replace stimulus funding

NESBIT — Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds says Mississippi’s universities have shaved $91 million from operating expenses, but will still need more state money next fiscal year.

The spending proposal presented to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee yesterday seeks state money to replace $66 million in federal stimulus funds that will be lost after this year.

In all, the system has asked for nearly $96 million in additional state funding for the year that begins next July 1.

Bounds said tuition increases brought in an additional $28.2 million last year. He said the $91 million in cost-savings came through various measures, including cutting positions, eliminating programs and combining some campuses’ office operations.

Bounds said Mississippi’s strategies for coping with a tight budget aren’t as severe as those in some surrounding states. He said nearly every contiguous state has more than doubled tuition. He said the only exception is Arkansas.

The university system’s current budget, including the stimulus, is about $716 million. The system is requesting $746 million from the state for next year.

Many of the committee members said education should be a priority when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January for the 2011 legislative session. The Budget Committee is holding hearings this week for state agencies to make their initial pitches for funding.

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