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College Board wants money for transition to new funding plan

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — The board that oversees state-run universities in Mississippi says it needs more money to complete the transition to a new formula for dispensing funds to the state’s eight public universities.

Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds of the College Board made the pitch yesterday to members of the House Appropriations Committee.

However, after getting a $20 million boost in the current budget, it’s not clear lawmakers will grant another $20 million increase in the 2015 budget they’re writing. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee recommended an additional $15 million, and House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, said reaching that level over two or three years might be more realistic.

Projections show $20 million would provide enough money so every university would get at least a small increase. The board is trying to equalize funding among universities based on how many courses students complete and other factors. It’s meant to reward universities that keep students in school, with extra rewards for meeting goals such as graduating students with low test scores, getting students out of remedial courses and into college-level work, or increasing outside research money.

“The board has heard the clarion call to ensure funds are going to where performance is occurring,” Bounds said of the new formula.

Frierson said he wants to fully fund the new formula first, but also asked Bounds how lawmakers could go about adding money to increase employee pay. Bounds said the best way to do that would be to give more money for the regular funding formula with lawmakers clearly stating they want it to be used for raises. Bounds repeated his concern Wednesday over low pay at Mississippi institutions that compete nationwide for professors.

All the universities except the University of Southern Mississippi and Delta State University granted pay raises to faculty members in the current fiscal year, according to information provided by the College Board. Those raises ranged from 1 percent on average at Mississippi Valley State to 5 percent at Jackson State. JSU’s raises were meant to account for a two-year cycle.

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