By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum spoke on Friday of the university’s success in recruiting students, producing graduates and raising money.
“Over the past five and a half years, I remain as optimistic and excited about our future as on the day I first stepped foot on campus (as president),” Keenum said while meeting with the Daily Journal’s Editorial Board. He also spoke to Tupelo’s Kiwanis Club.
Keenum noted that last year’s freshman class was the largest in the university’s history and posted the highest incoming ACT score and that this year’s class is “poised to set another record of academic achievement.”
This year’s class has about a third of the state’s STAR Students, he said. That honor is given to a student who earns the highest ACT score at his or her school.
MSU produced more than 4,300 graduates last year, its fifth straight year to set a school record. Keenum talked about efforts the school has taken to increase its graduation rate, specifically monitoring and supporting students early before they get off track.
“Going to class makes a huge difference,” he said.
The president highlighted MSU’s Infinite Impact capital campaign with a goal of raising $600 million for scholarships, faculty recruitment and retention and facilities by 2018. The effort already has $430 million in pledges and gifts, Keenum said, including a school record $106 million raised during the past fiscal year.
That has helped fund more than $500 million in construction projects that have been completed during Keenum’s tenure or are currently in progress. Much of that was funded by private dollars, Keenum said, including an engineering building about which he told the Legislature that if they would fund half of it, the school would come up with the rest of the funds.
“Going forward, that may have to be a template for us for academic facilities on campus,” he said. “We will have to be innovative and look to alumni and friends for support. What a bargain it is for the taxpayers of our state to get a world-class, state-of-the-art facility to serve the students of our state at half the price.”
Speaking about online classes, Keenum said there is a place for them, especially for nontraditional, working students who have a difficulty coming to campus. However, while the school is expanding such offerings, he said the traditional college experience remains important.
“I think a college education is more than just the information you get in a program of study, especially for traditional students,” he said. “I can’t imagine it is in their best interest to sit at home in their pajamas and go to college.”
On campus, those students learn about being in a diverse environment, maturing, thinking critically and interacting with others, he said, all skills that will benefit them in the workplace.