Meridian — Meeting educational needs for everyone is what it’s all about at Mississippi State University’s (MSU’s) campus here. It was begun in 1972 and offers students of all ages the opportunity to earn a degree or specialist certificate at a regional campus of a major research institution. The campus dean is Dr. Harold Nichols. There are 800 to 900 students and a faculty and staff of 75 to 100 that includes full-time, part-time and adjunct instructors.
“MSU-Meridian campus serves as a proud symbol of the university’s heritage as ‘The People’s University’ and of its commitment to providing quality higher education to the state’s people through the mission of learning, research and service,” Nichols said.
There are no residence halls but plenty of upper-level classes for juniors, seniors and graduate students in a close-to-home setting that suits many residents of East Mississippi and West Alabama. Linda Butler, public relations and marketing director, says the campus draws students from 30 Mississippi counties.
“MSU-Meridian campus was established for nontraditional students who can’t attend regular classes and at first we weren’t allowed to offer day classes because we did not target traditional students,” she said. “Now we are doing that because many students of all ages want to come here. Some like the smaller campus and lower faculty-to-student ratio. Then some need to stay close to home to work or take care of family members.”
Although the campus has a large number of older adults who want advanced degrees, the typical student these days is an early 30s-something as MSU-Meridian attracts more young students.
“They’re primarily coming here for convenience,” Butler said. “We have a lot of young married people and many of our students are working and going to school. Some of the more non-traditional students are re-careering after retirement or changing careers. We’re finding that yesterday’s knowledge may not suffice for today.”
She points out that theirs is a diverse student body with multiple generations who can relate real world experiences and learn from each other.
One older student is Lillie Powe who dropped out of school at age 15 to get married. The 50+ Waynesboro resident eventually earned a GED because she always loved school, then continued her education at a community college before the birth of her second child interrupted that phase of her education. At one point she was a full-time mother working two jobs.
“Little detours don’t mean dead ends,” she said. “I’ve just spread my education throughout my life experiences.”
She transferred to MSU-Meridian in 2004 to complete her bachelor’s degree in preparation for a teaching career. “This is for me,” she said. “The quality programs and caring attitude of the faculty and staff are only matched by what we as students of varied ages and backgrounds learn from sharing each other’s life experiences.”
Charles Pryor of Meridian took the route of many young people who attend college right out of high school and found that classes and studying took a back seat to other interests. He worked at various jobs, realizing after marriage and the birth of a daughter that he wanted to do more with his life.
Pryor graduated magna cum laude with an accounting degree from MSU-Meridian campus in 1993 and is now on track to complete a Ph.D. in business and industry with a 4.0 GPA at the main campus in Starkville. He scored in the top 2% nationally on the graduate entrance exam and was recruited heavily by major universities for doctoral programs.
Butler says MSU-Meridian was there for Pryor and others like him when they were ready for more education. “It is so rewarding to watch him realize his full potential,” she said. “With his outstanding academic performance and publications already being accepted in major professional journals, he will be highly sought after when his doctorate is attained.”
Four community colleges feed students into MSU-Meridian and the university does not compete with them by offering freshman- and sophomore-level classes. Butler said she knows of no plans to offer these classes in the future. The four university divisions in Meridian include Arts and Sciences, Business and Industry, Education and the University of Southern Mississippi-Meridian (USM) College of Nursing.
“That’s an unusual program and it’s great,” Butler said of the USM-MSU joint venture in Meridian. “It’s a good example of institutional cooperation and doesn’t compete with us. It offers an opportunity to nurses from around the state to attend here to complete bachelor’s degrees.”
She adds that it’s especially helpful because Meridian is a regional hub for healthcare. The nursing classes are offered on Saturdays and students must have associate degrees to attend.
The Division of Education has the most students and the MBA program has the second highest number of students. The MBA program was just started this year and adds another dimension to the Division of Business and Industry. Butler said the business community is pleased to have a university campus with research capability and doctoral programs.
“This division partners with local businesses and industries to act as a resource,” she said. “The division offers free consulting and seminars for businesses. We want to give back to the community.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.