USM looking at ways to trim 4.5 percent from its annual budget

Rodney Bennett, president of the University of Southern Mississippi (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Rodney Bennett, president of the University of Southern Mississippi (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

HATTIESBURG, Mississippi (AP) — Administrator say a hiring slowdown, larger classes and reducing travel are among the methods the University of Southern Mississippi may use to cut 4½ percent from its annual budget.

The Hattiesburg American reports the cost-cutting measures — though not instituted yet — are a response to an enrollment decline over the past few years. This fall, the university experienced a 2.6 percent decrease with 14,845 students enrolled.

“Our goal is to reduce the budget without impacting the students’ experience,” Southern Miss Provost Denis Wiesenburg said. “… The cost-cutting measures will have consequences, but we’re looking at cuts that will cause the least harm to students or the programs.”

Wiesenburg said the university’s headcount enrollment figures can be misleading — adding that FTE (full-time equivalent) figures more accurately show the drop.

“We are down 366 students who are FTE, but we are down 2.6 percent in student credit hours,” he said, explaining state funding is based on student credit hours and the university receives about $6,000 per FTE student. “We have fewer students taking classes.”

Douglas Vinzant, the university’s vice president of Finance and Administration, said the budget cuts are not mandated by the Institutions of Higher Learning or the state Legislature.

He said faculty and staff have been instructed to come up with ways they would reduce spending in their respective departments. He said nothing has been finalized at this point, but reports should be back from the departments in 30 to 45 days.

Vinzant said the university is not considering a hiring freeze — but more of a hiring slowdown where administrators would look closely at open positions to determine if they need to be filled. The university has about 50 administrative, faculty and staff positions now open.