Colleges Brace for Deep Budget Cuts

Mississippi is feeling the pinch from an economy that is slowing down, leading to reduced tax revenues. State lawmakers say all state funded agencies will be impacted, including Mississippi's colleges and universities.

USM, for instance, faces $16 million in cuts over the next year. The Gulf Park campus is spending capital improvements money to build a new library and advanced education center. USM President Dr. Horace Fleming wishes he could be sure there will be enough operating money run those buildings once they're finished. But cuts loom ahead, and Fleming is worried how they will impact the college.

"The searches and your ability to recruit will be seriously hampered. Students will began to wonder if the value of their education they're getting in Mississippi is the same they can get in Alabama, or Georgia or California or another state," Fleming says.

Fleming says if the state can't provide education, there's competition from the internet.

"If we don't meet the need and if the institutions in Mississippi, Mississippi State, Jackson State, Southern Miss and others don't come here to meet the educational needs, University of Phoenix, Nova University and others that are very flexible will be here to meet the needs," he says.

College administrators are looking to state lawmakers to meet their financial needs.

"We'll do our best to see what we can do on the financing, but if the money's not there the only way to do is to cut and be fair with the cuts," Representative Roger Ishee of Gulfport says.  "I look for the colleges to be cut after a lot of other agencies and bureaus are cut."

Ishee says the state's economic growth has averaged seen 6 to 8 percent over the last few years. Now, Ishee blames the fiscal blues on the sluggish growth this year.

"But it's actually less than four percent so that alone, it's not that we have less money comin' in but the growth rate has decreased from what was projected."

That leaves lawmakers little choice, Ishee says, than to make up for the loss by slashing budgets. College presidents say to cope with the cuts, they may have to lay off staff and impose hiring freezes.