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Committee to look at new funding formula for universities

AROUND MISSISSIPPI — A new funding formula meant to equalize state money among Mississippi’s eight universities will come before a College Board committee today and could get a vote by the full board tomorrow.

In recent years, the individual universities’ shares of overall state funding have remained the same, even as enrollments have shrunk at some and grown at others.

“There’s this inequitable distribution that’s grown over time,” said Higher Education Chancellor Hank Bounds, noting that the University of Southern Mississippi and Delta State University get comparatively more money now, while the University of Mississippi and Mississippi University for Women get comparatively less.

Bounds said the board will consider boosting funding for universities on the low end of the current scale, but wouldn’t cut money to any school.

“Universities are underfunded in this state, so even universities that get more of a share of the money are underfunded,” he said Tuesday in an interview. He said it would be bad to include cuts as part of a plan to redistribute state funding.

He also said he hopes to prevent losses to any school for at least the next two years, and then would try to limit losses to 2 percent of state funding in any year. Since universities get only about 35 percent of overall funding from the state, that would mean a school would lose less than 1 percent of overall funding in any one year.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center is not included in the changes. Also excluded are the agricultural units of Mississippi State University and Alcorn State University.

The current proposal calls for dividing $333.2 million by first putting aside 7 percent, or $24.2 million, to fund operating expenses. The four smallest universities would get about 15 percent of operating expenses funded by the state, while Jackson State University would get 10 percent and Ole Miss, MSU and USM would get 6 percent. Bounds said that the smaller schools, because they don’t benefit from economy of scale of a larger institution, need more of a boost on their baseline expenses.

The next 84 percent of the money, or $278 million, would be allocated based on how many course-hours students complete. Each school would get a share of the overall course hours taught in the system, with hours weighted to reflect the higher expenses of teaching graduate courses or courses that require highly-paid faculty and technical equipment. For example, a university would get 8.8 times more money to teach a credit hour of a doctoral-level math, science or engineering course than it gets for teaching an introductory English course.

The final 9 percent of the money, or $30.9 million, would be distributed as a reward to universities that fulfill College Board priorities. For example, schools would get money when students completed one year or two years’ worth of credit hours, when students who entered with a 19 or lower on the ACT college test graduated, when outside research money increased, when they graduated a greater share of their students, or when they spent less money per graduate.

Some states have made students pay more to study for graduate degrees with high earnings potential, such as a master’s of business administration. The proposed Mississippi formula would give higher subsidies for an MBA. Bounds said the College Board is discussing higher tuition levels for degrees that lead to higher pay, but hasn’t made a decision.

 

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