Keenum optimistic despite budget woes

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories reporting details of Mississippi State President Mark Keenum’s addresse to the university’s faculty on Friday. A second story will be published in Sunday’s edition of the Starkville Daily News.

Mississippi State President Mark Keenum says he is optimistic about the future of the university despite continued cutbacks in state appropriations and fund-raising challenges.
During the fall semester general faculty meeting Friday afternoon, Keenem expressed his appreciation for the faculty and staff and the hard work they have done in light of these hard economic times.
“I am very encouraged by the progress we have made in the last 15 months,” Keenum said. “And am more more optimistic than ever about next year and the years beyond.”
Though budget cuts remain burden throughout all higher education, Keenum said that MSU has “more financial flexibility because of the major enrollment increased of the past two years, coupled with somewhat higher tuition this fall, and continued success in private fund raising.”
“Revenue growth from all sources obviously is important, but the main reason that we are positioned quite well for this year and next, when the state’s budget will shrink further, is that we worked proactively together on this campus as a team to prepare for the lean times,” Keenum added.
During fiscal year (FY) 2010, Governor Barbour cut the state budget five times in response to lagging tax collections.
“A further reduction in our appropriation for fiscal year 2011 means that we began this current year with over 13 percent less in state funding than we had budgeted at the start of fiscal year 2010,” Keenum explained.
Further, for FY 2012, federal stimulus funds will be lost, which accounts for $11.4 million. This would put the university 24 to 25 percent below government funding levels from the start of the 2009-2010 school year.
“If we do in fact find ourselves down in state funding next year by 24 to 25 percent, we will be okay, because we have our plan in place,” Keenum said optimistically. “The growth that we have experienced, the efficiencies we have already implemented, and the planning we have done for next year will allow us to absorb the cut in state funds while keeping the quality of our core functions intact.”
Keenum said the combination of enrollment growth, tuition increases, reduced personnel costs as a result of leaving unfilled positions vacant by retirement, reserves from budget cuts made in FY 2010 in preparation for FY 2011, credit card convenience fees and redistribution of overhead funds are all ways the university will offset the loss of $11.4 million worth of stimulus funds.
Though Keenum is hopefully about the financial position of the university, he warned faculty members not to become complacent.
“The possibility remains that next year’s budget situation could be worse than anticipated. There is still a lot of uncertainty out there,” Keenum said.
“The Legislature will convene in January facing a state budget gap on the order of $500 million, and the competing demands on the smaller pie will be intense,” he added.
Keenum credits the Select Committee on Efficiencies and Innovations (SCEI), as well as the hard work and input from faculty and staff, as a major reason the university is prepared for meager federal dollars and further possible budget cuts.
“Many of the recommendations of the SCEI already have been implemented successfully, and follow-up during the current academic year will further solidify our position,” he said.
Keenum went on to talk about the generosity of alumni and other donors to the university.
“In fiscal year 2010, MSU attracted more than $65 million in private gifts and pledges, up from $61.5 million in the previous year. It was the third highest giving total in university history and the first time the university has had back-to-back giving totals above $60 million,” he explained.
The proportion of alumni who made gifts to MSU in FY 2010 grew to 19 percent, which is up from the less than 14 percent in FY 2009. This is particularly impressive given the state of the economy and the giving rates being down nationwide.
The StatePride private fundraising initiative started last year, and has raised over $42 million of the $100 million four-year goal.
“This month we will award over $1 million in StatePride Faculty Awards to 406 deserving faculty members in recognition of outstanding teaching, service, or research. The recipients of these $2,500 awards will be announced within a couple of weeks. Our plans are to make another round of StatePride faculty awards in the fall of 2011 as well,” Keenum said.
“We have made a great deal of progress over the past year, and there is a real sense of excitement and energy on this campus,” Keenum said.
“Of course, we’re not out of the woods yet. While I am cautiously optimistic that there will be no more unpleasant surprises with regard to our state support during this fiscal year, we must remain vigilant.
“We must continue to be as efficient as we can and continue to seek out ways to do more with less. And certainly we must continue to work together in an atmosphere of openness and candor... If we do that, we can accomplish anything. That is my commitment,” he added.