August 18, 2010
Dear Faculty and Administrators,
Welcome to the start of a new academic year. It's shaping up as another great one for Mississippi State.
A record number of students are on campus this fall, including the largest freshman class in MSU history. Our official enrollment, to be based on the 10th class day of the semester, will be significantly over 19,000.
Campus housing is filled to capacity, including the new South Hall, which opened last week. That state-of-the-art facility includes the offices and classrooms of our leadership programs, and along with nearby Rice and Cresswell halls offers a new living-learning community for the Day One leadership program for freshmen. To meet our continuing enrollment growth, planning is under way for our next new residence hall.
We are also planning for additional classroom space in a combination of new and renovated facilities.
We are prepared to accommodate this fall's new and returning students with sufficient class sections and faculty members to meet the demand. Twenty-three new faculty members are joining us this fall, along with five new visiting professors and a group of outstanding lecturers to assist us in the classroom.
I am looking forward to my own return to the classroom this fall as well. For the second year, I will teach an honors class in leadership.
While the economic recovery remains sluggish, there are positive signs.
The new fiscal year got off to a good start for the State of Mississippi with better than expected tax collections in July. Receipts for the month were higher than the official estimate, which is a welcome change. Collections were 2.4 percent higher than the estimate and 11.9 percent higher than in July 2009. Until July, monthly collections had been lower for the same period a year earlier in 21 of the previous 22 months.
The state also began the year with a $61 million fund balance from last year. By the end of FY 10, the governor had cut $466 million out of the budget in response to lagging tax collections. But collections for last year turned out to be below estimates by less than that--$405.4 million, which accounts for the $61 million reserve.
Last week, the Congress authorized additional federal stimulus funds for the states to support K-12 teacher jobs and to maintain a higher federal share of Medicaid payments. Our state legislature last spring anticipated that additional funding would be forthcoming and adopted a contingency budget based on that assumption. Details of how much additional money will finally find its way into this year's state budget and how it will be used remain to be worked out, but I am hopeful that higher education will be among the beneficiaries.
In any case, I am cautiously optimistic that we will not have to reduce funding levels further during the current fiscal year. I have asked the Commissioner of Higher Education to give us as much advance notice as possible if such cuts do appear on the horizon. We should have a clearer picture of the financial outlook for the remainder of the year after the Board and the university presidents meet in September.
Although our current state support is down from last year and is expected to decline again next year, we are confronted with less uncertainty than we faced a year ago, when we were approaching a succession of mid-year budget cuts.
Efficiencies and Innovations
During FY 10, our state support declined by over 9 percent, and we began FY 11 with 13 percent less than was budgeted at the start of last year. Next year's state appropriation-for FY 12-is likely to be 23 percent below the original FY 10 funding level. But some of that will be offset by increased tuition and other new revenue, and our efficiency and cost-cutting measures will help close the gap.
We are well positioned for FY 12 because of the cooperative efforts we made here on our campus during the past 12 months.
Thanks to your hard work and the constructive input into the process led by the Select Committee on Efficiencies and Innovations (SCEI), we are in good shape and looking forward to a great year. Some of the recommendations of the SCEI have been implemented successfully, and follow-up during the current academic year will further solidify our position.
A consolidation of the administration of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Forest Resources, and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station may result in savings approaching $2 million annually.
Some academic department mergers are under review. We have just proposed to the Board of Trustees a merger of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, to take advantage of new synergistic opportunities identified by the faculty in those units.
We have recently merged the Office of Institutional Research and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, and closed the Printing and Office Supply department.
Of the 792 MSU employees who were eligible for PERS retirement on June 30, a little over one-third took advantage of the retirement incentive offer. Faculty members accounted for 17 percent of the retirees. Our goal is to eliminate enough of the vacant staff positions to save at least 50 percent of the salary total in FY 2012.
A Benchmarking Committee chaired by Dr. Julia Hodges is at work identifying appropriate faculty levels for all academic units, and the committee's findings will be used by the provost and deans as we hire new faculty this year. Human Resources Management is reviewing non-faculty vacancies created by retirement and making recommendations on which positions to refill.
Key indicators for the past year show that we made great progress in several areas despite declining state budgets.
MSU awarded more than 3,700 degrees at all levels in 2009-2010, including a record 144 Ph.D. degrees and 72 first-professional degrees in veterinary medicine.
Our six-year graduation rate increased to 61.4 percent. The national Voluntary System of Accountability sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities reported that MSU had an overall Student Success and Progress rate of 85.6 percent for first-time, full-time freshmen.
Our StatePride private fundraising initiative begun last year focuses on scholarships and faculty support. By the end of July 2010 we had raised $41.9 million toward our four-year, $100 million endowment goal, with $29.8 million of that designated for scholarships. We will be able to award an additional $1 million in StatePride scholarships this fall.
We will also award $1 million in StatePride Faculty Awards this fall to 400 deserving faculty members in recognition of outstanding teaching, service, or research. We want to send the message that we value faculty productivity and contributions in all areas.
In FY 2010, MSU attracted more than $65 million in private gifts and pledges, up from $61.5 million in the previous year. It was the third highest giving total in university history and the first time the university has had back-to-back giving totals above $60 million. The proportion of alumni who made gifts in FY 10 grew to 19 percent, up from 14 percent in the prior year, although alumni giving rates were generally down nationwide.
MSU had great success in FY 10 in research and creative activity as reflected in external funding that totaled $201.6 million in support of 1,233 sponsored projects. That is an increase from $146 million and 1,177 projects in FY 09.
The new position of Provost and Executive Vice President, created last year and filled by Dr. Jerry Gilbert, is working very well. Dr. Gilbert is providing outstanding leadership for the campus and I am able to devote increased focus to external affairs and initiatives that will help us realize our vision for the university. By September 1, I expect to recommend to the Board of Trustees the appointment of a Vice President for Budget and Planning. On-campus interviews are under way with finalists for that restructured position.
We are working to expand outreach efforts to other parts of the world to help address global issues of hunger and poverty. MSU has a long tradition of international involvement in service related to agriculture. My goal is to build on that tradition and revitalize international programs. We are studying the creation of a university center that would coordinate and stimulate initiatives in agriculture and perhaps other areas.
In June, I visited with representatives of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP) in Rome and with representatives of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). We had a reciprocal visit in July by representatives of WFP and a cooperating U.S. corporation exploring MSU involvement in development of a new food aid product.
This month, I participated in an International Food Aid and Development Conference in Kansas City with representatives of USDA, USAID, and other land-grant and minority serving institutions. We are following up on a variety of opportunities for increased international involvement as a result of those and other recent contacts.
Service and engagement
Our students continue to make us proud. Yesterday, more than 300 students fanned out across our community for Service DAWGS (Donate a Wonderful Gift of Service) Day to help spruce up public spaces.
Last week, students, faculty and staff helped start construction of the second MSU Maroon Edition Habitat for Humanity house in Starkville. That service project is a tie-in with the second year of our First-Year Reading Experience, as is an effort to work with the Lamia Afghan Foundation to collect backpacks and school supplies for children in Afghanistan.
MSU is applying this year for the elective Community Engagement classification offered though the Carnegie Foundation.
I hope that you and your families will join Rhonda and me and our children for the Welcome Back Barbecue for faculty and executive staff at the President's Home on Monday, August 30. If you have not already done so, please check your email from August 9 for details and respond on line.
I look forward to thanking you in person for your hard work and outstanding support. We accomplished a great deal last year, and the year ahead promises to be equally productive and rewarding.
Mark E. Keenum, President