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Bounds: Loss of federal funding to impact universities

JACKSON — Mississippi’s commissioner of higher education says he expects a loss of federal funding to hurt the state’s eight public universities.

Hank Bounds spoke yesterday to legislators who are starting to plan state spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Federal earmarks have been stopped and stimulus dollars are phasing out. Bounds said he’s also concerned about the future of research dollars and Pell grants.

Since the late 1990s, Mississippi universities have received an increasing percentage of their funding from tuition and a decreasing percentage from the taxpayer dollars — a pattern that officials say is taking place in many other states, as well.

Information provided by the state Institutions of Higher Learning shows that in the state fiscal year that ended June 30, 1998, Mississippi universities received 54 percent of their funding from the state budget and 33 percent from tuition. For the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, they’re receiving 37 percent of their funding from the state budget and 57 percent from tuition.

Bounds said that while the out-of-pocket expense for students has increased several times over the past decade, university tuition increases in Mississippi have been less dramatic than they’ve been in other states in the South.

Mississippi universities are receiving about $1,000 per student less in state support now than they did a decade ago, Bounds said.

“We are focused on being resourceful and efficient,” he said.

While universities have found ways to save some operating expenses, Bounds said one way they’ve absorbed the change in state funding is by having fewer faculty members in relation to the number of students — the opposite of what they’ve wanted to do to promote academic achievement.

The university system is requesting more money for the coming year, including an additional $50 million for general campus needs, which is a proposed increase of 14.6 percent. The system is also seeking an additional $22.9 million for the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which is a proposed increase of 10.5 percent.

The state’s university system currently has its highest enrollment ever, with seven of the eight schools setting records.

The 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Committee is meeting four days this week to hear financial requests from the heads of larger state agencies for the coming year. Smaller agencies are submitting requests only in writing. The Budget Committee is scheduled to set a preliminary list of spending recommendations in December; the new four-year legislative term begins in January.

The new members aren’t obligated to accept the recommendations of the current Budget Committee, but they can use the list as a blueprint. All 122 House members and 52 senators are scheduled to vote on a detailed budget plan by late April.

Top lawmakers say they expect money to be tight because the economy is still dragging.

Bill Waller Jr., chief justice of the state Supreme Court, also appeared before the Budget Committee yesterday to present spending requests for the trial courts and appeals courts. The judicial system is requesting a pay raise for circuit and chancery judges, Court of Appeals judges and Supreme Court justices, who haven’t had a raise in 11 years.

“We’re officially 51st in the nation,” Waller said, speaking of judicial pay.


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