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State must invest to attract and keep best

We are all in this together. That was the sentiment from University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney Bennett at a joint meeting of civic clubs in Brookhaven Tuesday.

Bennett bragged on USM, and for good reason. He also talked about the challenges the state faces when it comes to funding higher education.

Bennett said that all eight of the state’s universities desire to see students — and the state — succeed. And while all eight compete for a finite number of students, Bennett said they recognize that it takes teamwork for the university system to be successful.

Bennett joined the presidents of the state’s other public universities in a meeting with lawmakers Monday. They stressed the need for more funding, but current budget recommendations call for giving universities 15 percent less in general funds. Community colleges would get 12 percent less.

Asking for more in a budget year that is anticipated to deliver less is a big ask.

“Without having both enhanced resources from state appropriations and some additional investment and cost-of-attendance from parents and families, our longstanding efforts to provide Mississippi students with a high-quality, competitive education will erode,” Bennett told lawmakers, according to a Jackson Free Press story. “This is not a fantasy rooted in theatrics.”

Even with additional state funding, tuition increases are likely at public universities. That puts the state at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting students. Tuition increases also make the cost of a four-year degree unmanageable for some. The same goes for increases at community colleges.

The state is already struggling to keep the best and brightest within its borders. Reversing that trend will take significant investment in higher education. We hope lawmakers realize that and act accordingly.