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Keenum says funding formula must be fair to MSU

May 4, 2011

From staff and AP wire reports

Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum said that any changes to the funding formula that divides state support among the state’s eight institutions of higher learning must be fair to MSU.
Some members of the state College Board told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper that they are ready to consider changing the IHL funding formula.
Three years ago, the College Board adopted a new funding formula that would have redistributed funding among the universities and given the state’s research universities like MSU and Ole Miss at the lower funding levels a bigger piece of the pie.
But with each appropriation bill since 2009, the Legislature has written into the legislation that funding must fall under the old formula. The policy is seen as legislative protection of the state’s smaller regional universities and two of the state’s three historically black universities.
A review of the most recent appropriations show that Mississippi spends an additional $1,200 on each student at Mississippi Valley State University and Mississippi University for Women compared with those at Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi.
Keenum said that while he understands concerns over the funding disparities, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t appropriate.
“It is my responsibility to work hard to ensure that the university has resources. This formula has been around since the 1990s and the formula has been frozen but the universities have changed,” said Keenum.
“The state of Mississippi needs more college graduates. The state average is 19 percent while the national average is 28 percent. Mississippi is at a disadvantage at attracting jobs to our state because of the education level of our citizenry. We need more college graduates. Mississippi State is doing that.
“Enrollment is growing. It has grown significantly even since I arrived. Enrollment in the fall of 2010 was 1,000 more than the previous fall. We expect to exceed 20,000 this fall,” Keenum said.
The MSU chief executive said that State’s performance should also be considered in the funding formula.
“We have a record number of graduates and over 80 percent retention rate. That is the best of all the public universities. This should be factored into the formula,” Keenum said.
The funding shows the state is not distributing money equally among students at the eight public universities.
Faced with such growing gaps in per-student allocations, state College Board members say they are ready to again consider changing the formula for distributing state dollars to universities.
Blocking them, however, is language the Legislature has placed into appropriations bills each year since a formula proposed in 2008 sparked at least one campus protest and concern from lawmakers.
“I have great concern whether it’s just a back-handed form of management. Front-handed, actually,” board member Amy Whitten said.
The state spends about $5,540 on each Valley State student and $5,362 on those at MUW.
JSU gets $4,202 per student and Ole Miss receives $4,247, based on current enrollment figures and fiscal 2012 allocations.
Other schools fall between those figures.
Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones said he often hears from faculty, students and alumni who are concerned the university is not getting its fair share.
Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said he thinks that heading into the 2012 legislative session will be a good time to review the policies and propose a new formula.
“It won’t be easy, and it wasn’t easy the last time we tried to deal with this,” board member Aubrey Patterson said. “Freezing it makes no sense, logically.”
Supporters of a new formula say the current method is not fair and fails to address enrollment growth or decline.
The proposed formula switch, however, has faced criticism from some universities’ alumni and state legislators, who say it places an unfair burden on smaller schools that do not have other resources to turn to.
Five schools — MUW, Valley State, Alcorn State University, Delta State University and the University of Southern Mississippi — would receive lower yearly allocations.
Meanwhile, the state’s two largest universities — Ole Miss and Mississippi State University — would get more, as would Jackson State, the largest of the three historically black colleges.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State have seen the fastest growth in recent years.
In addition to enrollment, the formula proposed in 2008 also placed additional emphasis on the state’s four research universities - Ole Miss, MSU, USM and JSU.
The argument was that their courses cost more to offer than ones at the other four regional universities.
Keenum said: “The state of Mississippi is benefitting for the positive momentum here (at MSU). We are meeting the needs of the state and the state is benefitting from the education provided here. The state gets back many times more than what it gives. I do not want to see any school disparaged by the formula and that includes Mississippi State. All institutions are not alike.”
But Keenum said he would work with the College Board and the Legislature to seek a solution to the disagreements over the funding formula that “is fair to all” after the 2011 statewide elections.

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