The numbers are in, and the news is good: More Mississippi students are attending college this year, with preliminary fall enrollment figures at all-time highs for the state”s eight public universities and the headcount holding steady at East Mississippi Community College.
Overall, the entire state saw an increase of nearly 4,000 students compared to last year”s figures, marking a 5.2 percent jump in enrollment.
At a time when the economic and employment outlook has been anything but sunny, educators say the push for higher education is a positive sign for both the present and the future.
“A better educated citizenry stabilizes the economy and creates better opportunities to bring good jobs to our state,” said state Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Hank Bounds. “Our universities are a collective, powerful and unmatched resource for advancing Mississippi. … Higher education provides the best return on investment for our citizens as individuals and our state as a whole.”
Mississippi University for Women
Mississippi University for Women saw a 3-percent enrollment increase from last year, with approximately 2,663 students enrolled as of Sept. 1. It”s the largest student body MUW has had since 1999.
“We are pleased to welcome our new students to MUW, and we appreciate the energy and enthusiasm they bring to our campus,” said Dr. Jennifer Miles, vice president for student affairs.
In a press release issued by the university, new student Karen Lott said she chose to transfer from Jones County Junior College in Ellisville because she appreciated the scholarship programs and liked the attention MUW officials gave to transfer students. Once on campus, she found she also appreciated the close-knit atmosphere.
“In comparison to other universities, the faculty and students here were much more welcoming and helpful,” Lott said. “Also, the smaller atmosphere at the W convinced me that if I enrolled, I would not just be another number, so to speak. So far, I have certainly not been disappointed.”
Mississippi State University
At Mississippi State University, sidewalks are jammed with bicycles and book bags as well, with the college reporting 20,424 students — a 3.97 percent increase from last year. The school has been on an enrollment push for the past few years, with MSU President Mark Keenum setting a goal of 22,000 students by 2015.
Like MUW, Mississippi State emphasizes its close-knit, welcoming atmosphere, along with its diverse curriculum and ability to create not just learners, but leaders.
“We tell students that no matter their interest or career path, Mississippi State can help them get there,” Keenum said. “This all-time record enrollment figure, especially the high percentage of students from Mississippi, is a strong indication of the confidence those students have in our ability to help them become the future leaders of our state and nation.”
East Mississippi Community College
Enrollment figures at East Mississippi Community College remain about the same as they have been for the past two years, with the two-year college reporting preliminary numbers of 5,268 students attending its Mayhew, Scooba, Columbus Air Force Base and Meridian campuses.
Though pleased with the numbers, there”s always room for improvement, and EMCC has decided to tackle the issue by focusing harder on student retention rates.
For the past two years, an “early alert” system has been in place to identify potential dropouts, and this week, a committee met to begin refining the program and building on the knowledge college officials have gained in identifying root causes, from student placement to personal issues.
“We will always work toward recruiting new students, and we have a very good recruiting department,” said Dr. Andrea Mayfield, vice president for academic instruction and institutional research and effectiveness. “We have just started the planning process, building on what we created last year … refining that process and continuing to make it better.”
University of Mississippi
The city of Oxford is also seeing record student numbers this year, with the University of Mississippi boasting 20,822 students — a 6.5 percent increase. A decade ago, only 14,284 students were enrolled at Ole Miss.
The growth increase is good for the college and good for the state, said Chancellor Dan Jones.
“The future of our state is directly tied to our success in education,” Jones said. “More graduates … will mean a stronger, healthier state and a more robust economy in the future.”
The exponential growth is partially attributed to the national attention Oxford gained during the 2008 presidential debate between Sen. John McCain and then-Sen. Barack Obama.
” … People around the world got a glimpse of our beautiful campus and the quality academic programs we offer,” Provost Morris Stocks said. “Since then, several national publications, including Forbes and Newsweek, have heaped praise on our programs, campus and students. It is important to recognize that all our successes are a result of the tremendous job our faculty and staff have done to provide the best opportunities possible for our students. It”s wonderful to see those efforts bear fruit.”
In a release issued by the college, Columbus native Chandler Craig explained why he decided to pursue his major in theatre arts and economics at Ole Miss.
“I chose Ole Miss because (when) I stepped foot on campus, everyone was so great and nice,” Craig said. “It has a great financial program. I love it here, and I feel at home. I was accepted to many schools up North, but I”m glad to say that Ole Miss is where I want to be.”
Such rapid enrollment growth is not without its challenges though. Campus officials have spent all summer working to ensure that food, transportation and housing are up to the increased traffic load. By next year, the college plans to add three new residence halls, which will house 856 students.
Around the state
Other colleges around the state have reported enrollment increases as well, with the greatest increase being seen at 140-year-old Alcorn State University in Lorman.
After failing to meet new President M. Christopher Brown II”s summer enrollment goal, campus officials found reason to celebrate the fall headcount of 4,391 students — well above the 4,100 goal, and a 19.3 percent increase from last year.
Other college enrollment increases include: Delta State University, up 6.9 percent with a total of 4,624 students; Jackson State University, up 2.5 percent with 8,903 students; and University of Southern Mississippi, up 4.6 percent with a total headcount of 16,506 students.
Only one of the state”s eight public universities showed a decline, with Mississippi Valley State, located in Itta Bena, seeing a 4.2 percent drop in enrollment and a total headcount of 2,526.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.