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IHL still looking to cut costs at universities

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — A state College Board panel will recommend Mississippi’s eight public universities reduce energy consumption 30 percent by 2015.

The efficiencies task force’s proposal, which will be presented to the full board when it meets Aug. 18-19, is among the options officials are considering to trim budgets, according to a published report in The Clarion-Ledger.

“We felt that, over a 10-year period, any university could reasonably achieve (30 percent),” said Jim Jones, who chairs the task force’s energy management committee and serves as director of campus planning and sustainability at Mississippi State University.

The efficiency efforts are an attempt to minimize the impact budget cuts have on students, Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said. Officials say the system is bracing for a 20-percent decrease in state funding between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2012.

“We want to find places other than the classrooms to make the cuts,” Bounds said.

In October, the board identified 12 areas of possible efficiencies, but leaders said some plans may be more complicated than they originally thought.

Efforts to use a reverse-auction system, which allows the universities to group big purchases, have been put on hold after a wobbly first attempt.

The system bid out an order for 3,000 mattresses for campus residence halls “several months ago,” Bounds said.

“We don’t have all of our mattresses in,” he said. “It’s causing ruffles all over the system.”

Efforts to consolidate back-office operations also have hit a snag.

Officials had planned to use MSU and Mississippi University for Women as a test for combining administrative software. Both schools use Banner software, but each has customized it to the point that they are no longer compatible.

“Can we save money? Absolutely, but you have to have the upfront capital,” Bounds said.

Six universities are on Banner-based administrative systems, and two have contracts with other companies. Bounds’ office estimated it could cost as much as $25 million to move all universities to the same system.

Bounds said he has spoken with state leaders about a potential bond issue to support the project. With the state budget crisis, he said he doesn’t know the chances of it coming through.

“I know (state leaders) are going to do everything they can to help us, but we’re just in extremely difficult financial times,” he said.


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