Public universities asking lawmakers for $72.4M budget increase

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi’s institutions of higher learning have asked lawmakers for $72.4 million more for the fiscal year that begins next July 1.

“We’ve made a lot of cuts. We have consolidated programs. Now we have hit a wall,” higher education commissioner Hanks Bounds told members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee yesterday.

Bounds said while there was a time when state appropriations were the main source of money, tuition now represents about 59 percent of the universities’ budgets while state funding has dropped to 32 percent.

In May, the state College Board decided tuition would rise about 8.5 percent, on average, this fall at the eight public universities. The board predicts an increase of between 5 percent and 6.9 percent will be needed for the 2013-14 year.

Bounds said the rising cost of tuition is directly related to the relative decline in state financial support for universities the past several years. The system’s overall budget went up slightly this year, but those increases were earmarked for financial aid, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and some other special items. Universities will see their general appropriations shrink by 1 percent, according to College Board officials.

“There are consequences to continued cuts,” Bounds said. “I’m worried about the future of the university system.”

Overall, the universities want $756 million, up from the $684 million appropriated this year.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves called yesterday’s presentation “a compelling argument for increased funding.” He said the Legislative Budget Office is faced with millions of dollars in funding requests from state agencies.

Reeves said he agreed with Bounds that the university system cannot be sustained with tuition increases.

Bounds said the public universities are in competition with each other and dozens of other colleges for students, faculty, research dollars and more. Mississippi needs to pay its faculty members more and doesn’t want to hurt the quality of students’ education, he said.

Bounds said the universities also would like a long-term funding mechanism for repair and renovation dollars such as in a bond bill that failed during the 2012 legislative session.

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