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8/13/2012 - Jackson, Miss.

By Dr. Hank M. Bounds
Commissioner of Higher Education

Most Mississippians have a vehicle to move us from where we are to where we want to be. For most days, that means moving us from our homes to our jobs. We know that we must be able to get to work if we are going to provide for our families and have the quality of life we would like. So, we change the oil, check the tires, and keep our cars in good running order so we can get to work, move ahead and end up ultimately where we want to be.

Mississippi Public Universities are like that for our state. Universities are the economic drivers that move Mississippi forward and will take us from where we are to where we want to be. Universities partner with local developers and state agencies to recruit new businesses to the state, while providing highly-skilled employees, training tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and innovators, and conducting cutting-edge research that can mean new businesses and new jobs.

Increasing the skills of our workforce is crucial to recovering from the recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree or higher for an entry-level position will generally grow faster than the average for all occupations. Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree or higher are expected to increase by 15.3 percent, or about 5 million new jobs, by 2016.”

Mississippians understand this and are enrolling in record numbers. The annual unduplicated headcount enrollment for Mississippi’s university system has increased by 23 percent since 2000, going from 76,441 students in 2000 to 94,028 students in 2012. This is an increase of over 17,500 students since 2000, almost the equivalent of adding another university almost as large as the University of Southern Mississippi, which is currently serving around 19,000 students annually, to the infrastructure of our system.

While the number of students has increased by over 17,500 students since 2000, the number of total faculty has increased by less than 400 during the same time period. Despite an enrollment increase of 23 percent, full-time and part-time faculty members have increased by less than 8 percent. Most of this increase is with part-time faculty. Part-time faculty has increased by more than 20 percent since 2000 as institutions struggle to accommodate larger enrollments with limited funding. Currently, almost 1 out of 5 (19.3 percent) of the more than 5,400 faculty members are teaching part-time.

Universities have worked very hard to find efficiencies and cost savings in operations and energy consumption also. An Energy Efficiencies Task Force worked throughout 2009 and 2010 to provide a set of energy efficiencies recommendations for the system and a detailed report on energy management for each campus in the IHL. In total energy conservation efforts since FY2006, we have avoided more than $17 million in electricity and natural gas costs.

A system-wide course redesign initiative, where 17 lower division course sections were redesigned, resulted in improved student learning outcomes and reoccurring instructional costs savings of over $750,000 annually. I would like to commend them for their hard work in finding numerous ways to become leaner, more efficient operations.

In fact, in 2000, the total budget per full-time equivalent student was $10,940. In 2012, that amount has dropped to $10,466. When adjusted for inflation, we are spending $2,074 less per student today than we did a decade ago. Although we have seen a 23 percent in the number of degrees granted in the last 12 years, we have seen a 13 percent reduction in the cost per degree granted. In Mississippi, we have never enjoyed the kind of revenue that other states have enjoyed; we have always had to be frugal. That is certainly true today as universities continue to find creative ways to do more with less.

State support has also declined during this time. Although today’s leaders understand the importance of increasing the number of Mississippians holding a credential of value beyond high school, investing in higher education has declined. In 2000, state appropriations provided over half the funds necessary for universities to operate. Tuition provided about a third of the funds needed. Today, those roles have reversed, with tuition comprising well over half and appropriations standing at 37 percent. Tuition increases have been a troubling result of this reversal. However, despite the increases over the past few years, Mississippi public universities have lower tuition than universities in other states while providing an education that meets or exceeds the quality found elsewhere.

In 2010-11, SREB reported that Mississippi’s universities had the third lowest median in-state undergraduate tuition in the SREB region. Only four-year institutions in Louisiana ($4,435) and Oklahoma ($4,432) had lower tuition costs than Mississippi ($4,605). The SREB average is $6,203. Mississippi universities have many programs and services to help pay for college.

Just as we understand that we must maintain our vehicles if we want them to continue to move us from where we are to where we want to be, we must support and maintain our university system if we want to move Mississippi from where we are to where we want to be.

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