Mississippi universities seek $76.3M budget increase

Associated PressJune 28, 2014 

JACKSON -- The College Board voted Friday to seek an additional $76.3 million in state funding for Mississippi's eight public universities when the Legislature gathers next year to write the 2016 budget.

That's a 10.2 percent increase over the funding they will receive in the 2015 budget year.

In the last two budgeting cycles, universities have asked for smaller increases, but have persuaded lawmakers to give them almost all of what they sought. For example, earlier this year, the Legislature approved a $29 million increase in state spending on universities, most of the $32 million the College Board sought. Some other agencies made requests for much larger amounts and walked away with less than the universities received.

This year, though, universities decided to ask lawmakers for much more money, highlighting the desire to boost faculty salaries, shore up research units that suffered during the recession, cover increases in financial aid and expand the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The board couldn't decide last week whether to ask lawmakers for an increase of $61.4 million or $84.8 million, the members finally decided to split the difference.

"It's an expression of our needs," said Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds. "We would be happy to get that number. The truth of the matter is it's not a full reflection of our needs."

A requested $34 million would go into a formula that allocates money to universities based in part on how many credit hours students complete. The board also wants $8 million for a special projects fund it would control, including changes to the formula that would allocate more money to universities that have larger shares of poor or underprepared students.

The board sought 8 percent increases for the agricultural research units of Mississippi State University and Alcorn State University, which had proposed 12 percent hikes. Because those units don't have students on whom to impose tuition increases, they have been hard-pressed by lagging state funding.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center sought a $17 million increase, which would boost its state funding by 9 percent to $205 million. Bounds said that the medical center would use the money to cover shortfalls in federal reimbursements for training medical residents, expand enrollment at its medical school and create a department of preventive medicine.

The board stripped out $7 million in requests from Delta State University, Mississippi Valley State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Even though the 2015 budget begins Tuesday, agencies are already preparing 2016 requests in advance of budget hearings later this summer.

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