College Board rejects universities’ proposals

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — The chancellors of Mississippi’s eight public universities presented the state College Board with requests to raise room and board rates late last week, but were told to come back next month with proposals for the long-term upkeep of dorms, not just the bare minimum needed to scrape by.

“I think the universities have been very conservative. I have some concerns about how conservative they are,” Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds said as he presented the numbers to the board. “We have made the smallest increases possible.”

In their proposal, university officials showed an increased need of about $18.5 million for fiscal year 2011, or 2 percent over the current year, to reduce debt, replace dilapidated dormitories and maintain existing housing. However, the proposed rate increases would give the universities only $2.8 million for each of the next two fiscal years.

To keep the immediate impact to students as low as possible, public universities in Mississippi have been forced to repair and replace dormitories by borrowing money on the front end and paying it back with interest over an extended period of time — as opposed to building up reserves to pay for future construction.

University housing must be self-sufficient and does not receive any additional money other than what students pay in rent.

Though financial officers from each of the universities were prepared to give detailed presentations explaining their increase requests, trustees stopped the process just after Alcorn University began the first presentation.

“This doesn’t seem to be a system that’s sustainable,” board member Alan Perry said, comparing it to an individual making a large purchase on a credit card and then paying the minimum amount due each month.

The board asked the university leadership to take their proposals back and reevaluate them before presenting them again next month.

“If I gave the impression that I just want the bare minimum to get by, I want to retract that,” said board member Amy Whitten.

The new proposals need to reflect the amount the universities require to maintain the buildings at a standard students want to live in, Whitten said.

The university leaders were clearly surprised by the board’s remarks.

University of Mississippi Chancellor Daniel W. Jones said the universities’ leaders had tried to put together budgets that would get the board’s approval; budgets that were “politically palatable.”

However, he quickly added, “We would love to bring a more aggressive plan before the board.”

Board president Scott Ross cautioned his colleagues to remember who would be paying for these increases.

“We’re talking about money coming out of some kid’s, or kid’s parent’s pocket,” he said.

In a separate item, students from the state’s community and junior colleges will be able to transfer more credits to four-year universities under a proposal approved by the state College Board yesterday.

The new policy ensures the transfer of all core curriculum courses with the grade of C or better.

Board member Robin Robinson says the purpose of the policy is to maximize the number of courses that count toward a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college from an Associate of Arts degree at a community or junior college.

The College Board first approved the policy in February. The second approval yesterday was needed for it to go into effect.

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