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College Board Asking Legislative Budget Committee to Fund Educational Needs for Record Enrollment

By Rhonda Miller | Published 18 Sep 2011 10:07am | comments
University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Vice President Frances Lucas, left, tells members of the College Board about five new construction projects on the Long Beach campus.

Today the State Institutions of Higher Learning outline their financial requests to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. After years of belt-tightening, MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports higher education leaders say there’s no  more fat to trim and no time to waste.

Walking in the shade of sprawling live oaks at the University of Southern Mississippi in Long Beach, members of the board of the Institutions of Higher Learning, known as the College Board, take a brief intermission. They’ve gotten a look at some once-elegant Mediterranean buildings hollowed out by Hurricane Katrina. All too soon, they’re back to the serious subject of money.

The university’s Gulf Coast Vice President Frances Lucas told the board funding for long-awaited projects is critical.

"We are breaking ground on five building projects, and FEMA and the insurance is giving us a good amount of money, but we’re going to need a little bit more to finish these projects, so that’s a top priority," Lucas said.

There’s a long list of priorities at the state’s eight universities. Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds says it’s time to get Mississippi off the bottom of the national list for education.  

"We have real education needs across the board and at the end of the day, it’s my belief we can only educate ourselves out of this downturn in the economy," he said.

Bounds says the record enrollment of 80,000 public university students is a good thing, but that’s only half the picture.

"With increased enrollment and decreases in resources for three consecutive years, the job becomes more difficult.  Because taking a population that is not as prepared as it needs to be when it enters college, it takes additional resources to move them through the pipeline," Bounds said.

With money for research decreasing and possible cuts in federal Pell Grants for students with financial need, College Board President Robin Robinson says resources are dwindling on many levels.

"The money that was coming to Mississippi because of the disasters that have occurred, we’ve been able to take advantage of federal dollars coming in and those are going away, too," Robinson said.

Higher education leaders say with budget cuts for the past three years, this year’s request is not an increase, but just enough to bring the budget back to 2009 levels.

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University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Vice President Frances Lucas, left, tells members of the College Board about five new construction projects on the Long Beach campus.


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