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College Board Approves Plan to Divide State Aid

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi University for Women, the University of Mississippi and Alcorn State University will get financial boosts under a new formula to distribute state money among Mississippi’s eight public universities.

The College Board approved the formula Thursday without amendments, although some members had objected in a recent committee meeting to funding levels for nonresident students.

Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds said the new formula is meant to more fairly distribute state aid among the schools. In recent years, individual university shares of state funding have remained frozen, even as enrollments have shrunk at some schools and grown at others.

For the budget year starting July 1, the plan would boost funding for some universities, but wouldn’t cut money to any school.

The formula would give money to cover overhead costs, with smaller schools getting larger shares. Then it would distribute most remaining money to schools based on courses completed by students, with graduate and technical courses worth more than basic undergraduate courses. Finally, some money would be given to universities that meet board goals, such as graduating students with low test scores, getting students out of remedial courses and into college-level work, or increasing outside research money.

“While no model will ever be perfect, and while it is likely that no university will agree with all aspects of the model, we believe that this model produces an overall result that is fair and equitable to all,” trustee Alan Perry, who chairs the board’s Finance Committee, said. His statement added that the model, because it is based on completed courses and not just enrollment, gives incentive to each university to become more effective.

State money allocated from a pot of $340 million would rise the most, at 6.6 percent or $904,000 at MUW. Other gainers would include Alcorn, where aid would go up 5.7 percent or $1 million; Ole Miss, where aid would go up 5.5 percent or $3.9 million, and MSU, where aid would go up $623,000 or 0.7 percent.

Bounds said the boosts would cut the inequities measured by the formula between universities by roughly half. The University of Southern Mississippi, Delta State University and Mississippi Valley State University would remain overfunded according to the model, but their shares of the overall pie will drop. State aid makes up about 35 percent of universities’ overall funding

Jackson State University is close to the funding level called for by the formula and would see little change.

Excluded from the shifts are the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the agricultural units of MSU and Alcorn.

A previous attempt to shift the shares of state aid had faltered when the Legislature blocked it in 2009. USM supporters had expressed concerns that the new formula could slice aid to their school, but those objections cooled somewhat after Bounds stated that lawmakers had set aside money to prevent cuts.

“While this is good news, we must remain vigilant in our commitment to ensuring student success,” USM President Rodney Bennett wrote in a campus-wide email April 9. “Student retention, progression and graduation demand our continued attention.”

Bounds has said he hopes to prevent cuts for at least one more year. It would take $5.5 million to again boost underfunded universities without cutting overfunded ones, according to College Board projections. If that extra money isn’t put in place for the 2015 budget year, USM could lose $1.5 million under the formula.

The formula counts out-of-state students at 85 percent of what a Mississippi resident is worth. Board President Bob Owens had said he felt that was too high, especially because Ole Miss and MSU collect non-resident surcharges from the large shares of their out-of-state students.

More than 40 percent of Ole Miss students are nonresidents, compared to 26 percent statewide. MUW has the highest share of Mississippi residents, with only 10 percent of students coming from outside the state.

But Bounds and other leaders say universities need to recruit outside Mississippi to boost their tuition revenue as a way to cope with declining levels of state support.

“Mississippi would be much better off if we had a formula that encouraged our universities to continue to recruit college students from other states,” Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones said Wednesday.

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