Ayers funding to drop off in 2012

JACKSON — Mississippi’s three historically black universities will begin receiving less money from the settlement of the decades-old desegregation lawsuit in 2012.

Officials tell The Clarion-Ledger that the state is unlikely to have the funds to make up the difference.

Settlement of the lawsuit, named after the late Jake Ayers Sr. who filed it in 1975, provided $503.2 million for the benefit of Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley, including new programs and infrastructure.

It also provided the funding would be trailing off in July 1, 2012.

Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds has asked the three colleges for business plans that would examine the viability of the programs and look for ways to substitute the settlement funds.

Universities are expecting state funding to drop from 10 percent to 15 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2011. Funding from the Ayers settlement is scheduled to drop from the current $20 million annually to $13.4 million on July 1, 2012.

The Ayers agreement mandated more than 30 new programs, which the settlement has supplemented since 2005.

Alcorn gained several professional programs, such as master’s degrees in business administration and accounting at the Natchez campus, and a bachelor’s in environmental science in Lorman.

Mississippi Valley’s new programs include a master’s in business administration and in computer science.

Jackson State added a master’s and doctoral programs in urban planning, along with the creation of the School of Public Health and School of Engineering.

The Ayers settlement calls for a $35 million private endowment to help offset the drop-off in state funding for the mandated programs like JSU’s engineering. But eight years after a federal judge approved creating the private endowment, no campaign has been organized.

The private fund’s balance remains at $1 million from a sole gift arranged in the first year.

Bounds said he’s pursing “some large foundations” to try to increase the fund.

“If the private endowment was fully funded, it would still only bring in about $1.5 million a year,” he said. “The first-year step-down is $7 million.”

If the money is raised, two of the three schools have not met requirements to gain control of their portions of the endowment.

Jackson State and Valley State still can access the money, but it is managed by the endowment committee until the schools maintain a non-black enrollment of at least 10 percent for three years.

That was supposed to be an incentive for schools to attract students of other races.

Alcorn State remains the only university to meet that benchmark, though non-black enrollment dipped to 8.3 percent this fall.

Jackson State has reached 7.9 percent this fall – its highest non-black enrollment since the settlement, while Valley’s was at 4.5 percent.

“It doesn’t appear to me that we’re making a lot of progress,” College Board member Scott Ross said.

Valley President Donna Oliver said the university is trying to increase diversity. Efforts include offering classes at the Greenwood Center and hiring an “other race” recruiter.

“It is truly a difficult challenge for us in Itta Bena,” she said.

Most of Valley’s students come from the Delta, and Oliver noted that the university’s race figures match those of school districts in the area.

“We’re not giving up on it, but it is not an easy challenge,” she said.

Bounds said the College Board’s diversity committee is working to enhance diversity at all eight universities.

“I think all campuses have some room for improvement there,” he said.

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