IHL Commissioner: "Fiscal stress isn't over"

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - The state college board of trustees visited USM's Gulf Coast campus in Long Beach Friday. They toured the campus and hosted a media roundtable to talk about budget concerns facing higher education.

As you might imagine, financial concerns are the primary worry facing the college trustees. Higher Education Commissioner  Dr. Hank Bounds fears the system may be facing a "perfect storm" of financial woes. That includes cuts from the state, cuts from the feds and far fewer research dollars.

"We're replacing all the windows. The historical society had specific criteria for the type of windows," said Dr. Lynn Estes, who directed a tour of the Long Beach campus.

College board trustees took a walking tour of the USM Gulf Coast campus to learn more about ambitious building plans now underway.

"In this calendar year, we're going to break ground on five building projects. And hopefully, we'll have three of those building projects open and ready by fall of 2012," said Dr. Frances Lucas, the vice president of USM Gulf Coast.

There is record enrollment across the state's higher education system, a system which also saw the highest number of graduates in its history this year. That's the good news. The bad news involves funding and budgets.

"I am really concerned that the fiscal stress isn't over. July and August revenue receipts are a little unnerving. I worry about what the future of state support looks like," said higher education commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds.

Dr. Bounds says from a budget standpoint, there's going to be pressures "from every direction."

"We could be facing the perfect storm: cuts from the state, cuts from the feds. We see federal research dollars going away," he said.

In the coming months, college presidents will receive more specific details about impending budget cuts.

"We're going to give them a set of assumptions in the coming months and ask them to business plan into the cuts that might be coming our way. We want to make sure we're out in front of this, instead of reacting to cuts," said Dr. Bounds.

"And the way that's been shaped at Southern Miss is what are our priorities? What are the things we must do better than ever? And how do we use our resources to make sure that happens," said Dr. Lucas.

Financial woes have also put the brakes on the proposed Cross Creek campus for USM Gulf Coast. Dr. Lucas told the media, "We hope to do something spectacular there one day."

She could not speculate on how soon that day might arrive; much of that hinges on the economy.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.