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Universities facing drastic cuts

JACKSON — Six of Mississippi’s eight public universities plan to make up the majority of expected budget losses over the next three fiscal years with cuts, efficiencies and enrollment growth.

In response to a dwindling economy, a multi-year plan for these institutions was discussed at a meeting yesterday of the Board of Trustees of the State Institutions for Higher Learning.

Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Valley State University, University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi were included in the presentation. The board plans to continue the discussion at 10 a.m. Monday via teleconference when they reconvene the recessed meeting.

“It is important that our institutions plan for the future in order to minimize harm to faculty, students and staff,” Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Hank Bounds said. “Our top priorities continue to be protecting the accessibility and quality of our degree programs. With significant planning and meaningful discussion, I believe we have a better chance of moving forward despite the challenges we face.”

Universities were asked to develop plans to address a 10 percent cut from the original appropriation in the current fiscal year ($39.3 million), including: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) dollars; an additional 5 percent cut in FY 2011 ($55.6 million cumulative cuts from FY 2010 appropriations); and, an additional 10 percent cut in FY 2012 ($115.1 million cumulative cuts from FY 2010 appropriations), including ARRA dollars.

Universities were also asked to include any items that may increase in the coming years including insurance, accreditation costs and minimum wage.

If the appropriation projections are accurate, cuts and efficiencies at the six institutions will likely result in a loss of about 900 positions – 565 through attrition – through FY 2013. Thirty-five degree programs, 22 departments and two colleges within the universities will also likely be consolidated or eliminated altogether.

To make up the remaining losses, the presidents from the six universities requested tuition hikes for FY 2011 and FY 2012 ranging from 4.5 to 9 percent.

“Unfortunately, because of the magnitude of the cuts that we are facing, tuition increases have to be discussed. It is our hope that this is a worst-case scenario; if we do not see cuts this deep, we can reduce the increases,” Bounds said. “The board and our universities remain committed to ensuring higher education is affordable in Mississippi.”

Some institutions are already making provisions for low-income students, Dr. Bounds added, by increasing scholarships and freezing tuition increases for those below a certain threshold. Even if the proposed increases are approved, tuition at the institutions would still remain significantly below the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) average, assuming SREB increases by 5 percent.

The Board took no formal action on the proposed tuition increases but will discuss the requests when the meeting reconvenes Monday.


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