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But, budget cuts could hamper growth

Gulf Coast campus expansion moving forward

GULFPORT — With 93 students enrolled in the first freshman class at the University of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast, the expansion program approved in 1999 is going well.

“The board is very pleased with the implementation of the expansion of USM’s programs on the Gulf Coast,” said Pamela P. Smith, Ph.D., spokesperson for the Institutions of Higher Learning. “The enrollment this fall exceeded expectations on the Coast and overall, enrollment has been up in the system seven consecutive years. The expansion on the Coast has just begun and we have only started to implement what we know the people need.”

USM President Shelby Thames said appointing Tim Hudson, Ph.D., as provost for the Gulf Coast campus shows the university’s commitment to meeting the needs of traditional and non-traditional coastal students.

“Tim is very dynamic and is building a great relationship among leadership of the Gulf Coast,” said Thames. “They see his enthusiasm and entrepreneurship and growth desires for the Gulf Coast campus and feel very secure about the path that he is setting for the future.”

Hudson was formerly dean of the College of International and Continuing Education. After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from USM in 1975 and 1977, respectively, he earned his doctorate degree from Clark University in 1980. He has served as a consultant to the Mississippi Research and Development Center, director of the USM economic development master’s degree program and a geographic analyst with the U.S. State Department. He received an honorary doctorate from London Guildhall University and was a fellow with the Royal Geographic Society. He has done work in several countries — Columbia, Jamaica, Germany and Mexico — and won the National Council for Geographic Education Distinguished Teaching Achievement Award in 1987.

Dr. Shelby Thames’ emphasis is magnified by the fact that he put a provost here, and Tim Hudson has done a great job raising awareness of the university’s offerings to the Gulf Coast community,” said Michael Olivier, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission. “Especially in the last three months, USM has been very aggressive in terms of meeting and engaging USM-Gulf Coast resources in any way they can. They are constantly letting the business community know what is available to them.“

Maintaining the momentum will be difficult if proposed $6.3-million budget cuts are implemented, said Smith.

“The budget cuts proposed for next year and those of the past have impacted the pace at which we can proceed,” she said. “People, especially faculty, drive our progress and with only cuts, it is very difficult if not impossible to deliver what is needed. USM is facing another $6.3-million cut next year. It looks as if it will be very difficult for the Gulf Coast to have its needs met in this climate.”

To help buffer budget cuts, the IHL board is taking steps to streamline operations. Last month, the board voted unanimously to establish a Center for Shared Administrative Computing at the Mississippi e-Center. Even though the board will ask the Mississippi Legislature for the $8.1 million required for start-up, the money should be recouped in savings over the next five years. Eventually, records of the state’s 66,000 students currently pursuing academic degree credits at Mississippi’s eight public universities, which include the University of Mississippi Medical Center, 10 off-campus centers and various other locations throughout the state, will be on one computer system.

“One center for administrative computing will be more efficient and can be more effective,” said Smith.

Two new buildings on the USM-Gulf Coast campus position the university well for the expected growth, said Dr. James O. Williams, USM-Gulf Coast vice president.

“Another new building is in the planning stages and we are hopeful construction funding is forthcoming,” he said. “The community has been very supportive as has been demonstrated by the establishment of several scholarships. In return, the new auditorium has been heavily utilized by community groups. While the state is in a slow budget cycle now, we are confident that funding will become available to support the inevitable growth to come.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

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