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IHL Board backtracks on establishing oversight on campus placement of degree programs

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

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IHL approves a $35 million bond for Southern Miss to renovate Reed Green Coliseum while considering the deletion or suspension of underperforming degrees programs at Mississippi universities.

During Thursday’s meeting of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning’s Board of Trustees, the Board reversed a motion to oversee each university’s ability to move degree programs between its own campuses.

The proposal to give the Board oversight in each university’s ability to relocate programs was approved by the Board early in the meeting, but later reversed prior to going into closed session during a roll call vote.

Associate Commissioner for Academic Student Affairs Dr. Casey Prestwood informed the Board that the proposed policy amendment aimed to give its members oversight into whether a university could move an academic program to another campus within the same institution. The Board’s current policy does not provide that oversight. 

“Board oversight and approval is necessary to consider the need for the proposed academic duplication, holistic impacts and unintended consequences, both positive and negative, which could extend to and beyond the institution seeking to expand its off campus offerings,” Prestwood read from a document. “The proposed changes allow the Board to maintain consistent authority for ensuring programatic decisions are in the best interest of quality education for the state of Mississippi and the university system.”

The policy change included Board oversight in the establishment of new courses of study, new departments and the creation of new functions and activities.

While the change passed when first discussed, at the end of the meeting Board member Hal Parker requested a roll call vote on the matter. After a motion was passed to reconsider, the roll call vote came in with four members voting in support of the policy change, five members voting against, and two abstaining.

After the policy change failed, Board member Gee Ogletree read a prepared statement about why he advocated for it. 

“I think we’ve made a serious mistake, and I need to express that. Briefly, the reason we looked at the proposals is because for some reason that I don’t know, our IHL many years ago abdicated its right to decide whether a university can move an existing academic program from one campus to another campus without any oversight or prior approval of this Board. To me those types of decisions are fundamental duties as trustees,” Ogletree read from his statement.

He added that IHL staff worked hard on the proposed change, and when he spoke with institutional executive officers at each university about the proposed change, no one expressed opposition.

Ogletree said he accepts “defeat” and will continue to work with the rest of the Board in future matters. 

Suspension/Deletion of Underperforming Degree Programs

In other business, the IHL Board approved a recommendation from Prestwood to suspend and/or delete underperforming programs at several universities. She said productivity reviews are performed on academic programs when the number of cumulative graduates reaches a certain level. For baccalaureate degrees, that level is less than 18, with 12 the minimum for master’s degrees and five for doctorate and specialist degrees. 

Recently, 33 academic programs were evaluated to determine if they were needed and if there was potential for growth in the enrollment. How productive that program is and if there were unnecessary duplications were also considered. 

Based on the evaluation, Prestwood suggested three programs can continue with the stipulation that they be reviewed again by academic and student affairs during the next two years, with the first annual report due on December 1, 2024. Those programs include the BFA in Digital Media Arts at Delta State University, the BS in Biomedical Engineering program at Jackson State University, and the MS in Data-Enable Science and Engineering degree at JSU. 

Four degree programs were suggested for suspension. Prestwood said the programs will be deleted by October 2026 if the affected universities decide not to make a recommendation prior to that date. The affected programs are BA in Music, BM in Music and BBA in Healthcare Administration at Delta State University, and the BS in Applied Gerontology at the University of Mississippi. 

Four other programs will be deleted, including MS in Health Promotion at the University of Mississippi and the BA in International Studies, PHD in Music Education, and PHD in Criminal Justice at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Reed Green Coliseum Renovation at Southern Miss

The Board also approved a motion to allow USM to initiate a bond process to secure funding for renovations to the Reed Green Coliseum athletic facility. The bond will total $35 million but the total cost of the project will be $43 million. Renovations will add 33,000 square feet to the facility and include a new training facility along with a new entrance and other amenities, said Assistant Commissioner for Real Estate and Facilities Brad Rowland. 

USM plans to put in $7 million of its own funds to reach the $43 million needed to complete the work. The city of Hattiesburg has indicated it can provide a portion of a one percent special sales tax levied to hotel rooms and restaurants to help pay the debt. That tax brings in about $1.8 million annually, Dr. John Pearce Jr., Senior Associate Commissioner for Finance said. Pearce added the annual debt service for the bond is expected to be about $1.5 million. 

“It’s important to point out… the authorization for this sales tax is going to sunset on July 1, 2026, so it’s my understanding the city and the university are all wanting to extend this but there is a risk that if this is not renewed by the Legislature and extended, the university would need to take on the debt service for this bond issue,” Pearce added.

As such, Pearce assumed the tax would not be renewed as he reviewed the university’s ability to pay the debt service on its own. Even without the tax revenue, Pearce said the university appears able to pay the debt and suggested the Board approve the request.

The extra $35 million will bring the university’s total debt service to $185 million in 2024. 

“This is still less than where the university has been in the past and will… still keep them below the 1.5 percent reserve threshold we have for outstanding debt,” said Pearce. 

Other Matters Before the Board

In other matters, the Board approved:

  • A request from the University of Mississippi Medical Center to enter into a five-year agreement with Baxter Health Care for intravenous supplies for nutritional and drug delivery systems at a cost of $22.6 million. As part of the agreement, UMMC agrees to purchase 90 percent of the facility’s IV products from Baxter Health Care.
  • A request from UMMC to enter into a service agreement with BFI Waste Services for solid waste disposal and recycling services at all UMMC locations. The agreement term is for five years at a cost of $5.9 million. 

The next meeting of the Board will be January 18, 2024.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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