Mississippi's Commissioner of Higher Learning is calling on lawmakers to honor a request for addition funding for the state's public universities. The College Board says it needs an additional $76 million for fiscal year 2016.
Mississippi's eight public universities received nearly $750 million dollars in state appropriations this year. Yet, I.H.L. Commissioner Hank Bounds believes it's not enough money. He says a lack of appropriation has made schools too reliant on raising tuition as a solution to funding shortfalls.
"In the year 2000, 56 percent of our total revenue came from state appropriations and about 32 percent came for tuition," says Bounds. "Fast forward to today, and those numbers have been completely flipped. So, I would tell you that long term it's not a good strategy."
At a budget hearing last month, the College Board asked the legislature to increase funding for state colleges by more than $76 million. Lawmakers say it too early to determine if they will be able to fulfill the request. State Senator Terry Burton of Newton is Vice Chair of both Appropriations and the Universities and Colleges Committee.
"How much of that $80 million we can do I don't know, but I feel like we wouldn't be able to do the entire request," Burton says. "We need to do everything we can to enhance our universities our community colleges, K-12. All of the educational budgets get the lion's share of the funding from state government general fund sources, and I don't think that will change. I think that education will be the priority of the legislature as it always is."
However, Bounds believes that until the state puts more money into education, tuition will continue to climb, meaning fewer students enrolling in college. He says that has a negative effect on the Mississippi economic development.
"The lack of education attainment in this state is an anchor that is prohibiting the movement of good economic development in this state," says Bounds. "The companies, the high tech companies, the companies with really high paying jobs that require baccalaureate degrees aren't coming to the state unless you have a certain amount of your population that already has attained a degree."
According to the U.S. Census only 19 percent of Mississippians hold a bachelor's degree; one of the lowest rates in the nation.