New funding strategy coming for MS's eight public universities

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - It's time to redo the math for Mississippi universities. The Institutions of Higher Learning wants a new formula for how it allocates money among public universities and the board has hired a consultant to come up with a plan. The kick-off meeting was held in Long Beach at the University Of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park campus.

Dennis Jones works for the National Center For Higher Education Management Systems as a consultant. He has helped several states that are struggling financially to figure out how to best spend their limited higher education dollars. Now it's Mississippi's turn, and Jones warned not everyone is going to be happy with what he recommends.

"This is just a hard conversation and it's a harder conversation in tough political times," Jones said in an address to representatives from all eight public universities.

He said in these tough times Mississippi must lay out what it wants most out of its higher education system and put its money there.

"I think we've come to the point in this country where we've had policies at the federal and state levels for years that was about student access," Jones said. "What we're saying now is access is critically important, but it's not enough. There has to be success with that access. Students have to walk away from the college experience with something that we completed a program."

IHL officials said the current funding model is 20-years-old and no longer works well in a time when appropriations are down and enrollment is way up at some universities.

IHL Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds said, "No institution looks the same. So building a one size fits all model you know that there are going to be some bumps there. So the idea is that we bring all these really good thinkers from around the state together and build the model we can," said Bounds.

Jones will be traveling to all eight universities to hear thoughts and concerns before putting together his recommendation. During those trips IHL board members won't be tagging along.

"We wanted the consultant to go to every campus and allow those individuals to be completely candid about what they see as concerns going forward.  We also want them to meet with each individual board member, individual and let them articulate the concerns they have about how you take limited resources and get better output."

Officials said coming up with a new formula will be complex. Some universities have 60 percent or more of their students who receive federal aid which is being cut back. Some institutions receive more private donations than others. Jones said he supports performance or outcome based funding because universities have more incentive to encourage and support students in completing their studies.

"These are institutions that are very different," said Jones. "They're in different places economically. They have different resource constraints and issues. If it were easy, I wouldn't be here."

The target for a new funding model recommendation is January. IHL officials said the amount of money to be reallocated is more than $338 million.

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