- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - With a native son headed west to lead the University of Nebraska, Mississippi’s College Board is looking for a leader to oversee its eight public universities.

Hank Bounds, Mississippi’s higher education commissioner since 2009, was named Monday as the new president of Nebraska’s four campuses. A 47-year-old native of the Forrest County hamlet of Brooklyn, Bounds was state superintendent of K-12 schools from 2005 to 2009 and was superintendent of the Pascagoula school system from 2001 to 2005.

“For me, this moment in my life is bittersweet, but we’re excited to have the opportunity to work at one of America’s top universities and I’m obviously honored and humbled to have been selected as the seventh president,” Bounds said in Jackson on Monday.

He’s scheduled to start work in Nebraska on April 13, staying in Mississippi until then in part to shepherd university requests through the Legislature.

College Board President Aubrey Patterson of Tupelo lauded Bounds’ “visionary leadership.”

“Dr. Bounds is one of the most outstanding people in the education field at a national level and it’s no surprise that a major Big Ten public university would seek him out,” Patterson told reporters by phone. “This will be a very hard man to replace.”

Board members are scheduled to meet Jan. 22, and could discuss Bounds’ replacement then.

Patterson said the board could name an interim commissioner, but wanted to move quickly, possibly hiring a permanent leader before Bounds departs. That would be a quick search; hiring presidents in Mississippi typically takes months of consultations.

Bounds led Mississippi’s universities during a time of financial stress, pushing institutions to cut costs, enroll more students and collect more tuition to replace falling state funding. As the state budget recovered, Bounds helped win some increased funding.

He didn’t get everything he wanted. A plan to increase financial aid got little traction - even though Bounds identified recruiting students of marginal financial ability as key to increasing the share of Mississippians with college degrees.

“There was nothing about Mississippi that motivated me to leave,” Bounds said. “My motivation was the opportunity that presented itself at the University of Nebraska. I’m a lifelong Mississippian and love this state. Obviously it’s difficult to move the needle with limited resources. But this was about being attracted to a new opportunity, not running away from where I am now.”

College Board trustee Ed Blakeslee of Gulfport said Bounds is taking a natural step.

“I think five or six years is about a lifetime for this job,” Blakeslee said. “It’s a tough job and I think the next step in his career was to be president of a university. He’s been a tremendous commissioner and we’re going to really miss him.”

Blakeslee said the board didn’t counter Nebraska’s offer, including a $480,000-a-year salary, a $20,000 supplemental allowance and $55,000 in deferred compensation. Mississippi’s board gave Bounds a 5 percent raise Oct. 1, increasing his salary above $358,300 a year.

Bounds has accumulated 25 years in Mississippi’s pension system, meaning he can retire and draw a pension while working in Nebraska.

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Follow Jeff Amy at https://twitter.com/jeffamy .

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