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Jackson State asks alumni to give to offset cash crunch

Jackson State University’s temporary leader Monday asked alumni to dig into their pockets to overcome the school’s financial challenges.

Interim President Rod Paige stated in a letter to graduates that the 10,000-student university’s expenses are exceeding income. He asked graduates to each contribute $100 to an “urgent fundraising campaign” that seeks to raise $5 million.

“This is a special personal request asking you to go beyond what you are already doing and respond to this current situation,” Paige wrote, asking alumni to give in addition to any amount they might already donate.

A former U.S. Secretary of Education and a JSU graduate, Paige said he’d lead by example and contribute $10,000 himself. He said JSU is also asking foundations and vendors to give.

Giving levels to historically black colleges such as JSU are often lower than to other institutions. Tax filings show JSU’s foundation has collected about $3.7 million annually in recent years. The University of Southern Mississippi, about half again as large as JSU, typically collects almost three times as much. JSU’s foundation had only $25 million in assets in mid-2015, while USM had $112 million.

The state gave $55 million to endow JSU and two other historically black universities as part of a desegregation settlement. It has pledged to raise additional private money for endowments, but has raised only $1 million.

President Carolyn Meyers resigned under College Board pressure last year, after trustees intervened in university finances, saying she’d spent down JSU’s cash reserves to a dangerously low level. JSU had promised trustees that it would increase reserves, but Paige said officials are having trouble reaching that goal because of overspending.

“Now, as the university accounts payable exceed the accounts receivable, cash reserves are not available to fill the gap,” Paige wrote. “This creates a dire situation, and immediate action must be taken.”

He said midyear state budget cuts are making financial recovery harder for JSU, taking $1.3 million so far this year.

Paige wrote that JSU is trying to cut spending without harming academic programs through methods that include a hiring freeze and controls on travel spending. Spokesman Danny Blanton said the fundraising campaign is part of an effort to raise revenue, attacking the cash crunch from both sides.

The interim leader is trying to firm up the university’s finances as the search for a permanent president moves forward. The College Board said Tuesday that its search committee would hold listening sessions with campus groups Feb. 15 to discuss the qualities of a new president. Last month, the board hired search firm Witt/Kieffer of Oak Brook, Illinois, to help find a new president.

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