Delta State University president Bill LaForge spoke at the meeting of the Columbus Exchange Club at Lion Hills on Thursday.
LaForge spoke about the successful programs Delta State has implemented in the last few years and in particular in the two years since he became president. He said Delta State strives to push out-of-classroom extracurriculars that make a university stand out, in addition to the academics found in every school.
LaForge referred to himself as a “faculty brat.” His father was a history professor and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, so LaForge grew up on the Delta State campus. He earned a Bachelor of Arts there. Since graduating, he has earned a law degree, traveled the world and worked as an attorney, lobbyist and policy advisor for policy makers in both political parties in Washington, D.C. Now that he’s president of Delta State University, LaForge says he’s back home.
“This is a calling for me,” he said. “This is something I never would have guess would have happened many years ago. It certainly wasn’t in the design, the plan, when we were all students back then. But it’s an opportunity I think to influence some change and make sure that a place that has been important to a lot of people continues.”
DSU’s music program
LaForge spend most of his speech talking about the school’s music program. Delta State’s music program has grown by 37 percent in recent years, according to LaForge, who called Cleveland a “musical Mecca.” LaForge has even implemented a blues program.
In addition to the expected emphasis on vocal, instrumental and performance studies, the music program at Delta State emphasizes the business aspect of the music industry. The university has its own recording studio and is affiliated with the Grammy Museum currently under construction in Cleveland. The university has also taken students to Los Angeles to see, and sometimes perform, for the Grammys.
The Grammy Museum in Cleveland will be affiliated with the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, said LaForge, but will focus more on Mississippi’s contribution to music. Mississippi’s heritage has influenced nearly every popular genre of music today, according to LaForge, who added that a disproportionate number of Grammy Award winners have come from this state. When the museum is completed, 60 percent of it will cover Mississippi and its musical heritage, while the remaining 40 percent will be dedicated to rotating traveling exhibits. LaForge was particularly enthusiastic about the traveling Beatles exhibit that will come.
He added that the music program will also involve a relationship with the University of California which would involve an exchange program between the universities. Interns and students from California will study in the Delta and students from the Delta will go to Los Angeles.
“So those Southern California blond guys are gonna come to the Delta and get a real lesson in life,” he joked. “Let’s see if they can surf on the Mississippi River.”
DSU’s exchange program
The Delta has created other exchange programs, particularly with universities in Bulgaria, Russia and Poland. Study abroad is an opportunity that most students will take if offered, LaForge said.
“We’re a little late to the game,” he said. “Most universities already do this.”
The university has also been “aggressively pursuing” international students, LaForge said in a brief interview after the speech. In a university with only a few thousand students altogether, more than 100 are from another country.
After years of declining enrollment in the university, LaForge decided to freeze tuition. The cost of attending Delta State University is $6,012 a year, he said.
“U.S. News and World Report just ranked us the top best bargain for tuition value out-of-state in the entire country,” he said.
Not only is the tuition a bargain, but the university is getting less and less state money, according to LaForge. Twelve years ago, about two-thirds of the university’s funding came from the state, while one third of it came from tuition. Now it’s the other way around, said LaForge.
“Delta State is alive and well,” he said.