MERIDIAN — In a Jan. 11, 2001 memo to Mississippi State University-Meridian Campus Dean Bev Norment from David Cole, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Mississippi State University’s main campus in Starkville, Cole described a program that “has never become a reality.”
That program is manufacturing technology, which in the fall of 1998 was the first semester students formally were admitted, and the memo is the way Dr. Chip Bailey, chairman of the Division of Technology, heard about admission to the program being suspended.
In the memo, Cole blames low enrollment on suspending admissions to the program: “As you are well aware, the enrollment expected in the above program (bachelor of science in manufacturing technology) has never become a reality. Given the current financial situation in both the state and the university and as we have discussed several times, I believe that it would be in everyone’s best interests to discontinue this program. To do this, I would recommend that admission into the program be closed and it be absorbed by your Division of Education until those students currently in the program have graduated.”
Cole added that the program’s faculty should be placed on nine-month contracts immediately and notified that the program will be suspended and that their employment in this degree program will be terminated “with the graduation of the current students.”
Ultimately, the program will be discontinued entirely with the degree completion of these manufacturing technology program students, Cole wrote.
Bailey said, “Right now I’m pursuing an avenue to try to get this reversed and an official comment from me would probably be very inappropriate as far as why it was suspended or why I think it was suspended.”
Bailey said he does not understand why admission to the Meridian degree program was cancelled, and said he does not recall ever being given an enrollment goal to meet.
“I set a goal of 50 students by 2005 and I’m well on my way to doing that,” Bailey said. “I’m a little fuzzy on what numbers I’m being held accountable for.”
Bailey said he set his own enrollment goal “in the absence of any clear guidance and direction.”
But Norment said enrollment just has not reached levels necessary to sustain the program.
“To be quite frank, numbers of at least 35 to 40 students a semester would be necessary to sustain it (the manufacturing technology program),” he said. ‘There has been an average of 13 students a semester for the past six semesters.”
In terms of the number of students who have enrolled in the program over the past three years, there are some 38 students who have been admitted or enrolled in the program, Norment said. Several of those students have already completed their degree requirements; others have changed majors or are no longer enrolled in the program.
“When you’re offering some six classes each semester, it’s necessary we have minimal enrollment,” he said. “This is a program that was initiated in the early ‘90s and has had ample time and early indications of support and with interest levels that should have been there, even by fall of ‘98 there should have been students knocking down the door. For whatever reason, that has not transpired.”
According to Norment, studies began in the early ‘90s about the program and a lot of interest generated from those studies. From every indication, there should have been a number of students ready to enroll in ‘98.
And, added Norment, “It doesn’t boil down to how much time Bailey has to recruit. (There were) reports done on that program that indicated there was a need and probably a supply of students that would have enrolled once it was up and going but that’s never materialized.”
Dr. David Moffett, the former dean of MSU’s Meridian campus, came to Meridian in 1972 to open the campus. He stayed until he retired in 1998. The manufacturing technology program was one of the last major accomplishments of the campus.
“I think it’s extremely unfortunate for the state of Mississippi that the program would be phased out,” Moffett said. “When you visit other states that have extremely successful (industries), most all do have manufacturing technology programs.”
That very issue was what led Moffett and others at the Meridian campus to think about developing program during the mid-1980s.
“We expected that the program would take several years of experience behind the program to develop it the way it should go and demonstrate to the residents of the region the importance of the program,” he said. “The thing that’s disturbing to me is the university has not given it the opportunity to fully develop before they made the decision to phase it out. It’s really premature to make a knee jerk decision on these types of issues when they haven’t had the opportunity to show their face in the region.”
Moffett said closing the program would inhibit enrollment growth at the Meridian campus.
“(Manufacturing technology programs are) not large programs any place you go because you have a lot of instruction that is based on a small faculty. They never were designed to be large programs in terms of numbers but designed to have tremendous impact.
“I think you would fully give a program of that nature 10 years to mature and develop and demonstrate its effectiveness before you made a decision on those issues.”
Moffett said to have 18 full-time degree-seeking students in the program at this time, which is how many the program currently has according to Bailey, is commendable.
Joe Farris, director of university relations at MSU’s main campus, said a committee was appointed several weeks ago to review the program and make a recommendation to the president.
“Their recommendations will weigh very heavily (on the president’s decision) and my understanding is that they’re probably going to be able to get their report in very soon,” he said.
Dr. George Rent, associate provost at MSU in Starkville, said the committee has now concluded but was not sure if a recommendation had gone to the president yet or not.
Dr. Bill McHenry, assistant commissioner for academic affairs at the Institutions for Higher Learning offices in Jackson, said in order to delete any university program the IHL board must approve a request from the university to do so. However, the university can suspend admissions to a program while it is waiting for approval by the board.
“I suspect that in July or February we’ll receive a request to suspend or delete the program,” McHenry said.
Sen. Terry Burton (D-Newton) said he hopes the manufacturing technology program got a fair chance.
“There were goals set (by the program’s advisory committee) for enrollment — 50 students by 2005,” Burton recalled. “Two years is certainly not long enough to determine whether or not a program is going to be successful.”
Burton felt that if the program were left alone to grow that it would.
“I think there needs to be a meeting of the minds,” he said. “If we did away with programs that had ‘low enrollment,’ we’d be getting rid of a lot of programs in Mississippi. In this instance the degree program is providing a service to people in the middle of their careers to provide a broad base of (manufacturing) technology.”
Burton said he was not invited to discuss his views on the program with the committee that is to present their findings to Dr. Malcolm Portera, president of MSU’s main campus, but that he had voiced his concerns of the program being canceled to Norment and Portera before.
program, I don’t think, is a bust,” Burton said.
Also, Burton added, there is a signed letter of intent from the University of Mississippi-Tupelo campus to deliver classes at that campus as well.
Dr. Eddie Smith, president emeritus at East Central Community College in Decatur, was a member of the