MSU clears big Phi Beta Kappa hurdle

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mississippi State University has crossed a big hurdle in its quest to bring a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society to its campus.
The institution was recently notified it passed a round of cuts of universities applying to PBK, MSU President Mark Keenum said Tuesday during an editorial board meeting with the Daily Journal. Of 20 to 30 schools being considered by a selection committee as part of Phi Beta Kappa’s three-year application process, MSU was among five to six to be chosen as finalists, Keenum said.
Those institutions now will be screened by the selection committee over the next two years, with the process including a site visit. All the finalists could be chosen by PBK but won’t necessarily be, Keenum said.
PBK is a prestigious honor society focused on excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. Only about 10 percent of the nation’s institutions of higher learning have PBK chapters and only about 10 percent of the arts and sciences graduates at those universities are selected for PBK membership.
Keenum called gaining a chapter “a high priority.” He noted an expansion of the library and classics program among MSU’s efforts.
“We believe a student needs to have a well-rounded education,” Keenum said. “We’re tagged as a technical school … and we’re proud of that, but we’re more than just that.”
During Tuesday’s editorial board, Keenum also addressed challenges to keep tuition affordable and raise faculty salaries.
The university has grown by more than 20 percent during the last five years to an enrollment of about 20,400 students. It has also seen its state funding cut by about 30 percent during that time.
When Keenum became president four and a half years ago, he announced a State Pride fundraising initiative designed to support student scholarships and faculty endowments. It netted $118 million between 2009 and 2012.
Although in-state tuition will rise $500 next year to $6,700 a year, Keenum noted that on average, scholarships reduce that figure to about $3,000.
Meanwhile, in addition to the endowment, the university is using its funds to supplement the pay of its full professors. That group currently earns about 83 percent of the average salary of the Southern university group, he said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com