JACKSON, MISS.– State budget hearings started today to help lawmakers prepare for the upcoming legislative session.
The Institute of Higher Learning and the Mississippi State Board for Community and Junior Colleges presented their needs for budget increases for the fiscal year of 2017. While both agencies noted improvement and progress in the past ten years, they argued that more money would help to progress even further, while also making necessary upgrades to facilities and providing salary increases for faculty and staff.
The Institute of Higher Learning listed numerous accolades for the 2015 academic year, including record enrollment of 93,833 students, a record 16,813 degrees, and the highest fall enrollment in history at 81,132 students. These achievements do bring challenges though, as the cost of attendance is more than 50% of Mississippi’s median income, and many academic and residential buildings on campus are well over 25 years old, and need upgrades.
While boasting growth and achievement, IHL Board Members are addressed during the question-and-answer portion not so much about how the increased funding would advance them as an agency, but how Initiative 42 passing could lead to issues in funding resulting in a 7.8% cut.
Speaker Philip Gunn asked Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum how that 7.8% cut in funding would impact Mississippi’s universities.
“That’s a loss of 58.5 million,” says Keenum, “700 positions would be affected. 31 million dollars would come out of operations alone.”
Keenum says Mississippi State alone would be looking at an 8 million dollar cut, which would cause a reduction in faculty that could affect 220 positions.
IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce says it’s not about pushing one agenda over another, but rather looking at the facts and being prepared. If a cut of that magnitude is possible, then his people have to be prepared for it. But Boyce adds that the students, ultimately, are the ones who will be impacted the most.
“There could be a 13% increase in tuition costs,” says Boyce. Speaker Philip Gunn adds that students would be paying more for less.
The Mississippi State Board for Community and Junior Colleges were prepared for their meeting not only with what they need, but how the state would get a return from that investment within the next decade.
“If you invest a dollar in community colleges,” says Jones County Community College President Jesse Smith, “You get $4.82 back….and $72 million back in tax dollars.”
But even with an investment return that Smith says Warren Buffett wouldn’t turn down, a 7.8% cut is a detrimental blow to the affordability of community colleges in the state.
“Some community colleges would be looking at a tuition hike of as much as 46%,” says the Mississippi State Board for Community and Junior Colleges Executive Director Deborah Gilbert, “as much as 42% at others.”
While these budget increases won’t be discussed again until the Legislative Session started in January, many state lawmakers agree that it all hinges on how the people of Mississippi vote on Initiative 42 in the general election in November.