Slow move is wise one

Published 1:50 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

The state College Board would be wise to go slow with reconfiguring the formula for distributing state dollars to universities, if the past is any guide.

But the Legislature is wrong to — politically — micromanage how such dollars are allocated.

To be sure, the board raised howls of protest in the spring of 2008 when it last changed the funding formulas for the state’s eight public universities.

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Under the formula, five schools — Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State University and the University of Southern Mississippi — receive less, while the University of Mississippi receives the lion’s share and Mississippi State University also gains in yearly funding.

The plan was theoretically sound, to correct a Board decision dating to the 1990s when officials implemented a funding formula with set percentages for each school.

As enrollments grew, funding didn’t match those expenses.

But the Legislature, responding to the outrage, balked. Each appropriation bill since 2009 has stipulated funding must fall under the old formula. As a result, funding is even more out of kilter.

For example, Mississippi spends an additional $1,200 on each student at Valley and MUW compared with those at JSU and Ole Miss.

The Legislature should allow the Board to allocate funds according to the needs of the university system. That’s its job.

But shifting ratios of funding can have dire consequences for the smaller of the eight universities, and the Board should also weigh other factors into the formula. For example, in the absence of foundations with deep pockets, historically black universities could use some help in building endowments.

The Board should consider ameliorating tuition and fee hikes, while the Legislature can also look in the mirror for cutting the percentage of state funds to universities.

The funding formula may beg review, but the Legislature should also provide a stable level of funding for higher education.

The goal by lawmakers and the Board should be to make education as affordable and accessible to the public as possible.