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IHL Board approves cuts in Delta State program
IHL Board approves cuts in Delta State program

The board of governors of Mississippi’s eight public universities on Thursday approved a plan to revive Delta State University’s ailing budget.

The long list of program cuts was among the first of 60 items on the agenda that were approved unanimously, without any comment or discussion during the board meeting.

The drastic restructuring, unveiled at a DSU town hall meeting earlier this year, will result in the Mississippi Delta regional college closing its College of Arts and Sciences and eliminating 21 of its 61 degree programs, including degrees in history, English, chemistry and accounting.

The university has already cut more than 66 positions, and more cuts are on the way. The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees has approved the elimination of the 21 degree programs – the cuts affect an estimated 16 full-time positions in the departments of languages ​​and literature, art, chemistry and music.

Although an ad hoc committee of faculty, staff and administration contributed to the decision, the drastic cuts are a priority for President Daniel Ennis and the 12-member committee that hired him.

IHL board member Teresa Hubbard is a graduate of Delta State.

“As graduates, we always hate to see cuts,” she said. “But at the same time, I think it’s more of a repositioning and reappropriation of things to get them where they need to be.”

According to Hubbard, the board of directors gave Ennis primarily moral support during the restructuring.

“This board hired Dr. Ennis, and he’s just an incredibly impressive man. And I think he’s on the right track,” she said. “He does advise us on some things, but he puts so much thought and energy and effort into every decision he makes that I just don’t think we could have done better with the results that he’s coming out with.”

Delta State has struggled to keep its budget in the black for years as the tuition-dependent university in Cleveland has struggled with declining enrollment. To keep the university afloat, previous administrations have also cut programs and positions.

Delta State University President Daniel J. Ennis (center) attends the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning board meeting at IHL headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi, on Thursday, June 20, 2024. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi today

In an interview with Mississippi Today, Ennis pointed to DSU’s fiscal year 2025 operating budget — which was also approved by the IHL — as an indication that progress is already being made. The university also received approval to spend up to $618,976 over three years to enter into a contract with consulting firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz to support the university’s enrollment efforts — an issue that Ennis said needs to be addressed in parallel with budget efforts.

The cuts come at a time when universities across the state are facing declining enrollment. A university or college has closed every week statewide so far this year. This legislative session, Mississippi lawmakers have targeted the state’s university system by introducing bills to close or merge some of the colleges.

Hubbard, the only trustee on the board who graduated from Delta State, is part of a regional college working group that she said exists to give regional colleges a chance to come together and have a say in solving issues that affect them as a collective, to a lesser extent than research universities do. The group meets as needed and recently met with Senate Committee on Colleges and Universities Chair Nicole Akins Boyd, R-Oxford.

When asked why Delta State is important to Mississippi, Hubbard pointed to the school’s location in the Delta.

“All universities are important – I think Delta State’s location is important for many economic and educational reasons,” she said. “I think they have a goal of reaching certain students and that’s very important. I just think Delta is a very special place in our state that everyone should experience.”

In Cleveland, citizens generally welcomed the restructuring on social media, but reactions within the university were mixed.

The board also adopted a new mission statement for the university. Compared to the previous one, it is brief: The mission of Delta State University is to offer exceptional programs and opportunities that are current, innovative, and tailored to the diverse needs of those it serves. The university provides experiences that promote intellectual growth and individual enrichment to develop productive members of local, regional, and global communities.

“The new mission statement is certainly part of our next steps,” Ennis said. “It’s not enough for a university to simply survive – we have to set ourselves up for success.”

The newly approved cuts primarily target the university’s liberal arts programs. A ranking of the programs favored majors such as nursing and teaching that are more directly tied to jobs in the state. The programs’ profitability was evaluated using standard metrics implemented during an academic review process.

“The public can be assured that comprehensive metrics were evaluated and multiple reviews by internal stakeholders were conducted throughout the process,” said Christy Riddle, DSU’s chief marketing officer. “Program data was also sent to departments for review and all feedback was considered in decision making. Ultimately, cost analysis accounted for only 10% of the formula, while program enrollment, faculty-to-student ratios and graduation rates received higher ratings. Profitability, while a major concern, was not the primary metric used.”

Four new degree programs will be created to replace the canceled ones.

The United Campus Workers of Mississippi, a union that advocates for higher education unionization, condemned the restructuring in a statement last month as part of a “larger and longer-planned attack on universities.”

“Policymakers talk about preparing students for a global workforce, cut funding so that schools have to raise tuition, and then treat it as a fact of life that students simply won’t enroll in humanities courses that would enrich their education but offer no obvious job prospects,” the statement said.

A Mississippi Today data analysis found that half of Mississippi’s public universities generate a larger share of their revenue from tuition fees than from state funds, while the opposite is true on average across the country.

At Thursday’s meeting, IHL board member Gee Ogletree pointed out the drastic decline in state funding to IHL over the past 25 years.

“I am grateful to Parliament for the appropriations. They enable all of our universities to fulfil their mission,” he said. “I would just point out that part of our tuition increases is largely due to the fact that we receive a smaller percentage (of funding) in these years.”

College reporter Molly Minta contributed to this report.

— Article courtesy of Violet Jira of Mississippi Today —

By Aurora