More than 2,200 new Mississippi State graduates received their degrees and moved on to new challenges earlier this month. Congratulations to them and to all of the faculty and staff who helped them reach that milestone. I am confident that our university prepared them well to be whatever they choose to be, and that we will be proud of the contributions they make to our state and nation in coming years.
Data gathered by the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center (nSPARC) at MSU show that a higher proportion of bachelor's degree holders in the workforce elevates the average income level for everyone. The state of Mississippi invests about $7,000 per student per year in undergraduate education. Based on its data, nSPARC calculates that, on average, each MSU bachelor's degree graduate will eventually return about $4.70 for each state dollar invested in his or her education—just in state income taxes and sales taxes. Each year's graduating class of bachelor's degree recipients from MSU returns over $6 million a year in taxes. The full economic impact is far greater than these graduates' millions of dollars in annual earnings, and they also tend to lead healthier and happier lives and make more productive contributions to their communities.
Commencement was a personal milestone for me, too. It marked the end of my first full semester at MSU, and it has been an exciting four months. In addition to visiting with students, faculty and staff, I spent a lot of time on the road, taking the Mississippi State message to alumni, friends, donors, government officials and others across the state and nation.
We continue to seek private donations to support scholarships for our students, and last week announced a $250,000 contribution to our Medallion Scholarship program for students whose income plays a critical role in their ability to seek higher education. The Texas-based Madison Charitable Foundation provided this important support for full-time freshmen or community college transfer students who meet certain academic benchmarks and have demonstrated leadership abilities.
On May 11th and 12th, I accompanied Dean Frances Coleman and library staff member Stephen Cunetto on a visit to the Association of Research Libraries headquarters in Washington, D.C. We had a productive discussion that will aid us as we continue to work toward becoming Mississippi's first ARL member institution. On the same trip, I joined Phi Beta Kappa application committee chair Robert West and committee members Steve Gwaltney and Lara Dodds for a talk with the executive secretary of Phi Beta Kappa. Our PBK faculty will submit a new application in the fall to shelter a chapter of the liberal arts and sciences honor society. I also had a chance to visit with members of our Congressional delegation and Commerce Department officials on wide-ranging topics including efforts to improve broadband capabilities for Mississippi's research universities.
In the coming weeks, I plan to spend a lot of time consulting with faculty and staff to help shape plans for our long-range future as a first-tier university that is both globally aware and fully integrated with the economic development of our state. We will be working to schedule separate meetings with the faculty of each academic college during the next few months.
With the state Legislature in recess until May 26, it will be later in the spring than usual before we know what our budget picture will be for the fiscal year starting July 1.
As I told IHL board members and staff in a recent budget hearing, our tuition revenue is running ahead of our current-year estimate by about $200,000, and that helps as we plan for next year. All indications point to another significant enrollment increase for the fall on top of last year's record 17,824. We believe our freshman class will again be the largest in the state, and the average freshman ACT score is holding steady with last year. Transfer numbers are also showing a healthy increase, and on-line enrollments are growing as we add new courses and programs. Overall, we may be up by about 400 students.
Our funding priorities fall into three broad tiers. First, we need to maintain FY 09 budget levels and fill critical faculty positions. We want to hire at least 11 new faculty positions for next year to help accommodate our growing student population. Our second tier of priorities would focus on recruiting more high quality graduate students and improving the academic strength of the university through more faculty positions, faculty start-up packages, improved library resources, and additional scholarships. Third-level priorities would strengthen campus security and student support services. We would add police officers, expand the study abroad program, and expand our institutional effectiveness and analysis program. We also have significant needs in our separately budgeted units such as MAFES, MSU-Extension, and the College of Veterinary Medicine; in faculty and staff compensation; and in overdue repair and renovation needs.
Legislative leaders are committed to restoring support for higher education to approximately the level at which we began the current fiscal year, before mid-year budget cuts of 5 percent were imposed. The federal stimulus funds coming to the state over the next two years will help. The state of Mississippi has submitted plans to devote about 21 percent of its stimulus funds for education to the higher education sector, although most of the stimulus funding will be deferred until FY 2010-11. More than one-third of Mississippi's stimulus funding for state government services will go into higher education facilities, and we hope to benefit from that.
We are also facing rising costs, including higher energy prices, an increase in the employer's share contribution to the state retirement fund, and higher insurance premiums, among other unavoidable expenses. Legislators have expressed a desire to see universities "made whole" going into next year. From our perspective, that means restoration of the 5 percent budget cut, restoration of our Educational Enhancement Funds to this year's budgeted level, and a sufficient increase in funding to offset mandated cost increases. If we don't reach that level, then we're facing a loss of buying power and are losing ground. That would force us to look at a tuition increase, which of course would be subject to Board of Trustees approval.
Given these financial realities, private support of alumni and friends is more important than ever. We recently completed our very successful State of the Future campaign, a seven-year effort that realized $462 million in private gifts and pledges. We're very grateful to the more than 60,000 alumni and friends who helped strengthen the university through their financial support.
Our fundraising initiative launched in February has produced responses from 2,081 individuals who have committed $185,521 in gifts and pledges. I have also met with a number of Foundation members, alumni, and friends of the university to share my vision for MSU's future and to solicit their help in pursuing these goals. Since January, our fundraising efforts have totaled $28.1 million.
The search committee for the Vice President for Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine has been at work narrowing the candidate pool and is on track to arrange on-campus interviews for finalists in late June. The search committee for the Vice President for Research and Economic Development has held its initial meeting and is finalizing the position announcement. I am grateful to Dr. Glenn Steele of the Department of Mechanical Engineering for agreeing to serve as Interim Vice President for Research and Economic Development. His solid background of research and administrative experience will ensure that we maintain our momentum during the next few months while the search is in progress.
Congratulations to Dr. Shane Burgess of the College of Veterinary Medicine as the winner of this year's Powe Research Award.
Congratulations also to the winners of this year's Zacharias Distinguished Staff Awards. If you weren't able to join us for the award presentations and fun on May 8, you can see the winners here. For a continuing update on faculty and staff honors, check our website from time to time.
Mark E. Keenum, President