USM President Dr. Horace Fleming stood between two charts as he explained his college's financial situation. "We're hoping for the best," he said. "And we're preparing for the worst."
At a news conference, Dr. Fleming said the worst would be the legislature dealing with its state revenue shortfall by cutting college budgets 15 percent. In USM's case, a cut that deep could mean the loss of 290 jobs on the Hattiesburg campus.
Administrators said the cuts could also add more delays to USM Gulf Coast's plans to admit freshmen. Dr. Jim Williams runs USM Gulf Coast. He said, "At a time when we need to be making those expansions, we're now talking about cutting back funds."
Dr. Fleming painted an eerie picture of the university's financial situation. "I would say yes, it's doom and gloom right now," he said. "But the one thing we don't need to do is fall victim to all the negativism. We've got to find some ways out of this."
Staff reductions are one way USM may survive this financial dilemma. Another solution is a tuition hike. At the news conference, administrators said a student who's paying about $1,500 to go to USM now may have to pay anywhere from $1,650 to $1,800 to attend USM next fall.
When we mentioned the tuituion increase to psychology student Kady Beaoui-Jernigan, USM Gulf Coast junior said, "You would think there would be another place they could turn to get those cuts."
But Dr. Fleming said the university can either raise tuition, or it can start cutting some of the programs that USM offers. "But before we lose signature programs," Dr. Fleming said, "we will ask for a higher than normal tuition increase. And I don't know what that means, 10%, 15%, 20, I don't know what it means."
Dr. Fleming considers this the worst financial situation he's encountered in his 30 years as an educator. He said his goal during this crisis is to keep education affordable and still maintain quality programs.
Dr. Fleming meets with USM Gulf Coast faculty next week to outline how the university will reduce costs and still accomplish those goals.