- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - An administrator who worked to boost enrollment and state funding for Mississippi’s universities was chosen Monday to be the University of Nebraska’s next president.

The Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve Hank Bounds, the commissioner of higher education for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning in Jackson, Mississippi, was one of four finalists for the position. He replaces J.B. Milliken, who left last year to become chancellor of the City University of New York.

Bounds, who begins his new job April 13, will oversee the campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney, as well as the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis.

“We are convinced what impressed the board about Hank also will impress Nebraskans,” Regents chairman Howard Hawks said in a conference call with reporters.

Bounds, 47, praised the University of Nebraska as a nationally recognized brand in higher education and athletics, and said he would work to achieve “giant status” while focusing on student access, retention and affordability. He said he also was impressed by the university’s wide offerings, including global research institutes and leading scientists.

“I’m excited by the fact that the university has a comprehensive mission,” he said.

Bounds has led Mississippi’s eight public universities since 2009. He was the state’s superintendent of K-12 schools from 2005 to 2009 and was superintendent of the Pascagoula school system from 2001 to 2005. Earlier, he worked as a high school principal.

The university said Bounds will receive a $480,000 annual base salary under a three-year contract. Interim President James Linder has filled the president’s role since last year.

The other Nebraska finalists were Michael Martin, chancellor of the Colorado State University System; Sally Rockey, deputy director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland; and George Ross, the president of Central Michigan University.

Bounds oversees about 80,000 students in Mississippi, while the four Nebraska institutions, including Big Ten member University of Nebraska-Lincoln, have about 50,000 students. Bounds’ departure leaves Mississippi’s College Board to look for a new boss to oversee the state’s eight public universities.

In Mississippi, One College Board trustee Ed Blakeslee said becoming the president of a university was a natural step for Bounds. Blakeslee said the board didn’t counter Nebraska’s offer. Mississippi’s board gave Bounds a 5 percent raise that kicked in Oct. 1, increasing his salary above $358,300 a year.

Bounds led Mississippi’s universities during a time of fiscal stress, pushing institutions to draw more students and collect more tuition to replace falling state funding. As the state budget has recovered, Bounds has helped win some increased funding for the schools, and implemented a new funding formula that distributes state aid based on completed class hours.

One factor that could have weighed in Nebraska’s favor: Bounds has reached 25 years in Mississippi’s pension system, meaning he can retire and draw a pension while working in Nebraska.

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Associated Press writer Jeff Amy in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.

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