OXFORD – Enrollment is up 3.5 percent compared to a year ago at Mississippi universities, with the two largest – Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi – setting new records with more than 18,000 students each.
State Institutions of Higher Learning officials released enrollment figures for each of the state’s eight universities on Friday. MSU leads the IHL system with an official count of 18,601, up 4.4 percent, followed closely by Ole Miss at 18,345, up 4.2 percent.
Jackson State University had the highest growth rate with a 4.9 percent increase, while both Delta-based institutions saw declines. Mississippi Valley State University fell 3.8 percent and Delta State University fell 0.8 percent.
Officials at the state’s two largest universities, both of which are located in Northeast Mississippi, are proud of their achievements.
“We like to think this milestone – growing to 18,000-plus students – is because college-bound students are learning that the University of Mississippi is the place to go if you want to experience amazing opportunities,” said Ole Miss Provost Morris Stocks, echoing the university’s “Experience Amazing” public relations campaign.
“Think about it,” Stocks added. “How many universities hosted a presidential debate last year? How many universities produced Rhodes, Truman, Gates and Marshall Scholars last year?”
Stocks touted “a wide array of diverse academic degree programs,” foreign study opportunities and affordable tuition as ingredients in making Ole Miss “a tremendous academic and economic value.”
MSU officials noted their production of a Goldwater Scholar last year along with the state’s highest ACT average, 23.7, on the ACT college entrance test. President Mark Keenum also noted that MSU boasts the best graduation rate at 61 percent of entering freshmen of any university in Mississippi.
He is especially pleased with State’s Top 20 rating by Forbes magazine among the nation’s best college buys.
“This prestigious publication recognized our university as one of the best when it comes to giving students ‘the most quality for each tuition dollar spent,’” Keenum said. “We’re committed to continuing to provide the high level of academic instruction that enabled Mississippi State to earn this designation.”
Just as they are serving their largest number of students ever, Ole Miss and State, like most institutions nationwide, are in the midst of belt-tightening.
Endowment investments are generating less funding, donations are more difficult to come by and Gov. Haley Barbour has announced an across-the-board 5 percent budget cut for state agencies and institutions.
Both MSU and Ole Miss anticipated the continuing economic difficulties.
“We have plans that have been in place since April or May,” said Larry Sparks, vice chancellor for administration and finance at Ole Miss . “We fully expected this 5 percent to come earlier, and we created our budget anticipating it.”
MSU President Mark Keenum likewise planned early. While the cuts will not be equal in each department, he said, “All components of our university are prepared for up to a 5 percent cut.”
At both universities, strong enrollment numbers mean growth in tuition and fees, which supply roughly one-third of the budget.
“They obviously will generate additional revenues to the university that we need to help us address the shortfalls in our budget,” Keenum said. “That will help knock the sting out of the budget cuts.”
Sparks called Ole Miss’ increased enrollment “one of our saving graces.”
Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal