March 18, 2009
Neal Wagner -
Big plans and a "bright future" are in store for Mississippi State University, MSU President Mark Keenum told the Columbus Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon.
From dealing with a nationwide economic downturn to increasing student enrollment at the university, the president of little more than two months outlined several of his long- and short-term goals for the state''s largest school.
"The country is facing a challenging economy right now, and the state and the university are not immune to that," Keenum said, noting the university, earlier this year, was on the verge of passing a 10 percent budget cut. "We are a poor state, but we have a great investment in higher education.
"As many of you know, Congress recently passed an $800 billion stimulus package," Keenum added. "We, as a state and as a university, are going to benefit greatly from this."
Because state senators and representatives have pledged to use some stimulus funds to aid MSU, the university will not have to cut its fiscal year 2009 budget, Keenum explained.
In addition to the stimulus funds, the university also will receive about $75 million, more than any other university in the nation, from the state legislature''s recently passed appropriations bill, he added.
"With that $75 million, we will be able to build three new buildings on campus," the university president explained. "I am confident that if we continue to demonstrate we are a worthy recipient, funding will continue to come our way."
University officials also are urging state legislators to pass bond issues to renovate a few aging campus structures, such as Lee Hall.
"We have a lot of needs right now," Keenum said. "Lee Hall was built in 1909 and is in need of renovations and repairs, right now. We are pushing the passage of a bond bill in the legislature this year to help get that done."
Although state and national funds, this year, will help the MSU budget remain "whole," university officials may face an uncertain budget in 2010, Keenum said.
"The government hasn''t committed (funds) to 2010 yet," he noted. "We are working to make sure that the state and national decision makers know how important it is to fund the state''s higher education.
"I don''t want to raise tuition next year, especially in these times," Keenum continued. "But our cost of operating is going up, and that needs to be addressed by the legislature, as well. Unfortunately, (raising tuition) may happen if we don''t get the resources necessary to manage our university."
Future campus construction and renovation will be done to work toward one of the university''s long-term goals, Keenum said.
"By 2015, I want to have 22,000 students at Mississippi State University," he explained. "Will we be able to serve 22,000 students in the future? I am confident that if we take the proper steps now, we will be able to do that."
MSU currently serves 18,000 students.
"We have a very strong delegation in the state Legislature that understands the importance of higher education," Keenum added. "I am confident that Mississippi State University has a very bright future ahead of it."