Editorial: Tuesday, June 9, 1998

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial: Tuesday, June 9, 1998

Civic, education, industry and political leaders across Northeast Mississippi spent most of the 1990’s developing plans and sharpening ideas for an Advanced Education Center on the Ole Miss/ICC campus in Tupelo.

Dozens of the people who played roles in the idea attended groundbreaking ceremonies Monday for the $10.6 million complex on 70 acres of land donated by the city of Tupelo. Local leaders raised $2 million from non-state sources to match $8 million in bo<$nding authority provided for construction by the Legislature.

The center’s broad mission calls for it to respond quickly and effectively to more narrowly focused business and industry needs in retraining and redeveloping working adults for 21st century jobs. The University of Mississippi, acting as the lead institution, joins its resources with Itawamba Community College and Mississippi University for Women.

Ole Miss has a degree-granting campus in Tupelo. The W offers a bachelor’s degree in nursing in Tupelo. ICC’s sprawling vocational-technical campus in Tupelo is an institutional anchor for the center.

The center’s completion offers Ole Miss unprecedented opportunities to enhance and strengthen the Tupelo campus. The university’s academic mission in Tupelo will expand to include degrees in physical therapy, health information management and occupational therapy. All three disciplines reflect and complement the strong and growing presence of Tupelo-based North Mississippi Health Services and the Memphis-based Baptist Memorial Hospital systems in Northeast Mississippi.

The center also will have strong affiliation with Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville, which is a partner with ICC in the Skills and Technology Initiative, an education/training program funded from state and local sources.

Nothing like the Advanced Education Center would have been possible 20 years ago, or even at the beginning of this decade, because universities generally had not accepted the necessity of diversifying the way they made higher education possible. Community colleges like ICC, it should be noted, adapted programs and academic disciplines long before universities to the needs of business and industry.

Ole Miss’ administration, after significant prodding and persuasion by influential alumni and civic leadership in Tupelo and across the region, responded to the challenge of taking the lead for the center. The university’s role made it a marketable product in the Legislature, because it took a statewide dimension. Speaker Tim Ford, backed by most of the area’s delegation and Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, kept the issue alive and maintained support through three legislative sessions.

A similar center will be built in Greenville and operated under Delta State University’s and Mississippi Valley State University’s umbrella. A third center may be built in the Laurel/Hattiesburg area under Southern Mississippi’s umbrella.

The Tupelo center, however, will be the first, bellwether program and facility of its kind in Mississippi.

The cooperation among Ole Miss, MUW and ICC shouldn’t preclude Mississippi State’s entry into the center’s institutional support. Ole Miss, by statute, holds jurisdiction for branch campus operation in Tupelo, but it can and should allow MSU and other institutions to offer courses leading to degrees if the courses don’t duplicate what Ole Miss already offers.

The Advanced Education Center opens a new era for higher education in Tupelo. The center will thrive best if its goals continually reflect the spirit of innovation, responsiveness and adaptability that inspired the idea and support for it.