Campus Update – May 4, 2017

As the Spring semester comes to a close, I wish you a very productive and enjoyable summer. For our students who graduate this weekend, I wish you the very best.  Delta State sends you out into the world to greet the many wonderful opportunities that life and career will afford you.  We hope you will always keep Delta State in your hearts, and return often to your alma mater.  To our students who will be returning this summer and fall, get ready for some exciting days on campus.  This next academic year will bring a number of positive changes to campus ranging from new student success programs to several building renovations to exciting athletic competition and all the fun of collegiate life.  To our faculty, I hope the summer break helps recharge your batteries.  If you are teaching summer session, then I’ll see you around. For our staff, I look forward to meeting the newness of a four-day workweek with you as we strive to save money on utility bills.

Here are a few timely items I would like to share with you.

1)     Campus Forums – Thanks to those of you who attended the forums for students, faculty, and staff last week.  Your questions and concerns are important to me, and we are attempting to address each and every issue raised.  For those who missed the forums, I have outlined below the basic information about the state budget cuts and how the university is responding to them.

State budget cuts – When we begin our new fiscal year on July 1, we will have $2.2 million less to run the university than we did a year ago.  These cuts imposed by the state are very serious. We experienced six mid-year cuts during the last 16 months, and four mid-year cuts in this fiscal year alone.  Collectively, the public universities in the state have been cut 13.8% in the last year and a half — more than $100 million for all eight campuses.  For Delta State, the mid-year cuts equaled more than a 5% cut.  On top of that, our operational budget for the upcoming new fiscal year beginning July 1 has been cut an additional 5%, for a total cut of 10%, which represents the $2.2 million. But, we will remain a strong institution because we have planned well, and we are managing our resources well — especially in tough budget times.

University response: offsets and savings – In response to the state budget cuts, Delta State’s first priorities are making every effort to protect our people and our programs, and ensuring that we continue serving our students well.  On the revenue side of the ledger, the university has increased tuition 7%, or $441 annually, to $6,859 annually (including the capital improvement fee).  We are digging into our reserve fund, establishing an administrative fee on designated funds, and asking our Foundation for greater support.   On the expense side of the ledger, we imposed a hiring freeze and a spending freeze this spring, but we will lift both beginning July 1.  However, we ask all faculty and staff to continue your good diligence and prudence in spending institutional dollars.  We are closing the golf course after June 30, as well as the university’s operation at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center in Clarksdale.  We will postpone some capital project expenditures, and realize some savings from modest reductions in the Athletics and Facilities Management budgets. During the summer months, we will shut down some campus buildings totally and parts of other buildings to save on air conditioning costs, and we will implement a four-day workweek between May 8 and August 4.  All of these actions are designed to offset the $2.2 million in state budget cuts.

2)     New Initiatives – Despite the budget cuts, we are working hard to marshal scarce resources to support some important initiatives identified by our faculty and staff that are necessary to support our students and programs.  There will be slight budget increases to support classroom technology and equipment, library materials, diversity programs, scholarships, campus safety, advertising and marketing, and a few growth areas.  Enrollment increases in our DMI/Entertainment Industry Studies program and in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation justify a new faculty member in each of those departments.  We are also hiring staff to operate the new academic success program for student-athletes, funded by a grant from the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

3)     Building Projects – Watch for progress on campus as renovation commences for the Young-Mauldin Dining Hall and Zeigel Hall, as well as the groundbreaking for the Statesmen Boulevard project that will connect Highway 8 to the Athletic Complex.  These projects are funded by state bonds/federal funds — not the university’s operational budget.

Thank you for all you do to make Delta State a great place to live, learn, and work!


Karen Cummins Scholarship Established

President LaForge and Billy Cummins

Delta State University welcomed Billy Cummins to campus on March 23 to sign endowment agreements for the Karen L. Cummins Endowed Scholarship Fund in memory of his wife, Karen L. Cummins, a 1979 graduate of Delta State University who was a trustee of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning and an exemplary employee of Atmos Energy Corporation.

The Delta State University Foundation, which will manage the fund, has received over $50,000 in generous donations from family members, Atmos Energy Corporation, friends and colleagues.

The purpose of the fund is to establish a scholarship for a student attending Delta State University.

Delta State President William N. LaForge said he was extremely grateful to the Cummins family.

“Billy Cummins’s generous gift to the Delta State University Foundation is significant for two reasons. First, it honors a very special person — his wife, Karen — who was a Delta State alumna and served on the IHL Board of Trustees. Secondly, the gift supports a major foundation scholarship fund that Delta State has established, with Billy’s guidance, that will honor Karen’s memory in perpetuity, while providing funds for deserving students to attend Delta State far into the future,” LaForge said.

“I am very grateful to Billy Cummins, his and Karen’s companies — Atmos and Entergy — and all donors who have contributed to this fund in Karen’s memory,” he added. “It is so fitting that we pay tribute to Karen Cummins in this meaningful way.”

The current level of the endowment will provide approximately $2,000 annually to a qualified recipient.

Potential recipients will exemplify the following guidelines:
-Recipient shall be the child of a current employee of the Atmos Energy Corporation or Entergy Corporation. First consideration will be given to children of employees of Atmos Energy.
-Recipient shall possess a high school grade point average of 3.0 or higher (on a 4.0 scale).
-Recipient shall maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher while attending Delta State.
-Recipient must meet all university scholarship guidelines to maintain the scholarship while enrolled at Delta State.
-Recipient must be in good standing with the university, will uphold the guiding principles and embody the core values of Delta State University.

Investing in our Academic Future

By William N. LaForge, President, Delta State University

The continued cuts to state funding for public universities in Mississippi present a significant challenge that is felt not only at the university level, but also across the entire state.

Each of the eight public four year universities has a considerable investment in our students, businesses, employees, communities, outreach efforts, and research projects—all of which ripple out to impact the state’s economy and future. All of us as citizens of Mississippi are affected directly or indirectly by higher education outcomes, sometimes in ways we don’t even realize.

Mississippi Today recently reported that between fiscal years 2010 and 2017, state university funding has declined 4.5 percent, and general funding for IHL has declined more than 7 percent. During that same time, system-wide enrollment has increased more than 12 percent, and the number of degrees awarded in this state has increased nearly 14 percent.  The hardest hit budgets have been the universities’ operating budgets that provide funding for maintaining campus operations and paying the salaries of the faculty and staff who educate our students.

State funding is necessary to supplement tuition and other revenue for our universities that, collectively, are one of the best higher education bargains in the country, and which boast reasonable tuition rates that other states and universities envy.

To support the vision of a new Mississippi, the most appropriate view of higher education expenditures by the state is not simply that of an expense item in the budget. It is much more essentially an investment—in our students, in our state, and in our future.

Like our sister public institutions, Delta State manages scarce resources in an environment of competing priorities every day. We strategically focus our attention and spending on programs, initiatives, and educational offerings that bring value to our students and to the state. And, we rely basically on state funding and student tuition to provide the revenue necessary to accomplish our mission. Some ask, ‘How can we measure the outcomes and the return on our investment?’  The answer is in the products we produce—prepared students who are ready to enter the professions and workforce across the state.  All of our state universities are working hard every day to meet that goal through prudent allocation of resources.

One example of smart, targeted spending that produces terrific outcomes at Delta State is our emphasis on improved retention—helping our students stay in school and on the path to graduation.  Between the fall of 2015 and the fall of 2016, we experienced significant increases in retention rates for first-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshmen—5.2 percent; first time, full-time, degree-seeking transfer students—7.8 percent; and, all full-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students—3.7 percent. Simply put, this means more students stayed in school and on the path to graduation—and on the path to being more productive, employable citizens of our state.

But, the retention programs that produce this success cost money. Better said, they beg for our investment of dollars to support a program that will help Mississippi get off the bottom rung of American educational and economic metrics.  We are being asked by the state to continue doing this good work—to continue producing more and better-educated students—with fewer and fewer resources. By any measure, that is an unsustainable pattern.

Here at Delta State University, as at all our public universities, we believe in putting students first, and that quality education should be available to all qualified students in this state. We offer the lowest tuition in the region, and we make the most of our limited resources, while still providing a top-tier education for our students.  But, as long as state funding is severely limited or cut, this model of success will be undermined.

Just as our eight public universities merit the investment of Mississippi tax dollars to support our educational mission, our students individually also need financial assistance to enroll and stay in school.  State research data show that 89 percent of our eligible full-time, degree-seeking students, both undergraduate and graduate, received some form of financial aid during the 2015-16 academic year. These deserving students need our support to help them earn a college degree—a tangible outcome that serves the best interests of our state on so many   levels.

In the rural Delta of Mississippi, Delta State is seen as a beacon of opportunity in a place where opportunity is sometimes lacking. In the fall of 2016, for example, 25 percent of our student body comprised first-generation students. This number is clearly indicative of the urgent need for, and value of, higher education in the Magnolia State. When we educate that first­ generation student, we are lifting up an entire family.

Continuing to cut state funding for higher education puts statewide efforts for student success at dire risk. Future cuts will only produce a steeper uphill battle in the fight to lift this state off the economic bottom. We cannot continue to be expected to produce more graduates, continue our outreach efforts in our communities, and fund vital research with fewer resources.

Let’s continue to educate Mississippians and to make this state a better place to live, work, prosper, and raise our families. Enhanced state funding for higher education—not more budget cuts—is the key to a brighter future for this state.