Miss. College Board head: Better budgetting needed

Published 1:39 pm Thursday, October 2, 2008

College Board members are asking lawmakers for a five-year plan to pump an extra $36 million a year into Mississippi’s higher education system.

“An enterprise this size, you just can’t run from year to year,” board president Amy Whitten said Tuesday at the Capitol.

Whitten said long-term budgeting will give the College Board a better idea of when tuition might need to go up — and that could help students know how much money they’ll need to save or borrow.

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Tuition for the eight public universities has increased 10 times since 1997.

A House and Senate committee will spend the next two months examining university budgeting.

Higher education leaders want to increase salaries to keep top faculty members in the state.

College Board member Aubrey Patterson said Mississippi’s universities receive millions of dollars less than schools in other southern states receive each year.

Tuition here has increased when lawmakers have given universities less money than the College Board requested. Legislators have to stretch the state budget — $5.5 billion this year — to cover education, health care, transportation, prisons and other state services.

Patterson said College Board members know decisions about tuition can hit families’ budgets.

“We are concerned about affordability. We are concerned about access,” Patterson said.

College Board member Scott Ross, a former legislator, said the board is looking at ways to make the eight universities operate more efficiently.

“We don’t really have to have a payroll department … in each university,” Ross said.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant asked College Board members if they thought there should be a tax increase or other “dedicated revenue source” to put more money into the university system.

Patterson responded that legislators, not College Board members, would make that decision.

“That may be beyond our charter,” Patterson said.

The university system had a $2 billion budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30. About $787 million of that came from state government, $389 million came from tuition and the rest came from grants and other sources.