Commissioner of High Education discuss concerns

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Commissioner of Higher Education, Hank Bounds is worried about economic development, salaries, and leadership. He says these are all issues affecting the Magnolia state's education system. Bounds and other leaders discussed these concerns and possible solutions during the Mississippi Association of Colleges and Universities Conference, Monday morning at William Carey University.

"I talk about the things that keep me up at night,"said Bounds.

Bounds says the biggest issue he faces is faculty salaries.

"A decade ago we were behind the southeastern average by about five percent. Over time, because of under funding from the state, we are now at about 15 to 17 percent behind,"said Bounds.

Bounds discussed lagging statistics in Mississippi's higher education system with Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, and Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority, Brent Christensen during a panel discussion for the conference.

"Universities are border less, competition is extreme, and so we are competing for the best faculty with universities across the country,"said Bounds.

A competition where, Bounds says, Mississippi doesn't rank highly.

"Why would a faculty member come to Hattiesburg, unless they have connections to Hattiesburg, and make 20 percent less money?," said Bounds.

Bounds says if this gap continues, he fears for the future quality of education, and keeping the best student in the state.

"It really is an economic development issue for the state of Mississippi,"said Bounds.

With no easy solution, Bounds says the appropriation request was entirely around faculty salaries.

"The other option is tuition increase. We are at a point now where we can't sustain the kind of tuition increases that we have seen over the past decade,"said Bounds.

Bounds added they have to start somewhere.

"We are not asking to solve it in one year, but we are saying let's recognize that the problem exists, and let's start chipping away at the problem,"said Bounds.

The issue of stability is a concern for Bounds when it comes to the longevity of a university president.

"The national average is about five years,"said Bounds.

That was the average for the last three presidents at the University of Southern Mississippi. Bounds understands the need for a president beyond those years, but it's a tough job, which needs the right person to fill it.

"It is important to have someone who understand the institution, the state, the challenges that we face,"said Bounds.