Higher education on the Coast was knocked to its knees by Hurricane Katrina as the two major four-year colleges, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Gulf Coast and William Carey University on the Coast, had beautiful campuses on the waterfront that were decimated by the storm surge.
Fast forward three years later and enrollment at Southern Miss on the Coast is expected to exceed pre-Katrina enrollment this year, and enrollment at William Carey this fall is expected to see a sizeable increase from last year when there were 612 students enrolled compared with 743 in the fall 2004.
Both colleges are planning brand new campuses in safer territory farther inland. William Carey is building a campus in the Tradition planned community north of Interstate 10 while USM has been given 200 acres by Cross Creek Development and is beginning planning for its Cross Creek Campus facility.
Neither college is waiting until new campuses can be constructed to continue offering higher education on the Coast.
“We are offering even more classes than we did prior to Katrina because we have the interim site in Gulfport and the Gulf Park campus, as well,” said Dr. Pat Joachim, associate provost, USM Gulf Coast. “And our enrollment has made a tremendous rebound this summer. We have actually had the highest summer enrollment in the history of the Gulf Coast.”
Part of what is driving increased enrollment is the economy. When there are downturns in the job market due to the economy, some people take it as an opportunity to get more education, improving their employment prospects. Joachim said another consideration is what the university is doing to help working people attend school including “hybrid” classes that are part in the classroom and part online.
Programs in demand
“Another factor is the programs that we are offering on the Coast are relevant to what is needed in the future with business and industry,” Joachim said. “Our professors are good with instructional delivery, they provide good advice to the students, and then we have a student services department that actually walks that walk with the students and provides the resources that they need to get into classes, stay in classes, apply for graduation and get placed in the job market.”
USM Gulf Coast is also working hard to do a better job of marketing the university. All those factors together helped make summer enrollment a record. And USM is hoping for a record this fall, too. In the spring of 2005 before Katrina, USM Gulf Coast had 2,774 students. It is hoping to hit 2,800 students this fall.
“The governor and the commissioner of higher education both want to see more baccalaureate degrees in the state,” Joachim said. “We want to be here to provide that.”
‘Collaboration and cooperation’
Industry and business and legislative leaders worked for many years to establish a four-year public college on the Coast, and they have been extremely pleased with USM’s progress. And Joachim said there is a lot of excitement about Southern Miss right now because president Martha Saunders is focused on the Coast as is the new university provost, Dr. Bob Lyman. The new dean of business school, Dr. Lance Nail, is also very supportive of the Gulf Coast.
“We are working hard to have good collaboration and cooperation between all of our sites and the Hattiesburg campus,” Joachim said. “And there is a lot of excitement about the planning for the Cross Creek Campus. We will have the best of both worlds because we will have a four-year university with a state-of-the-art new campus while the Gulf Park campus will continue to grow, as well. It is kind of like the stars are lining up. It is really exciting. The Coast community is very excited and behind us. We have a lot of partnerships with business and industry here along the Gulf Coast.”
Planning is starting this year for the Cross Creek Campus, located in Harrison County north of I-10 approximately two miles from U.S. 49, and more will be known after the next session of the Legislature when it is hoped that funding is committed to put in infrastructure and start construction of the campus.
“Planning a new campus is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we are committed to making this the best it can be for the people of South Mississippi,” Joachim said.
A planning committee has been approved for the Cross Creek Campus that is co-chaired by Sid Gonsoulin, associate vice president of student affairs, and Bryan Billings, director of project planning for Southern Miss Gulf Coast. The 34-member planning committee includes faculty, staff, alumni, students and city representatives from Long Beach, Gulfport and Pass Christian.
Also working with the planning committee are representatives of Eley Associates of Jackson, Studio South Architects of Long Beach and Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass., consultants selected by the university, the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning and the Bureau of Buildings to work with the planning committee in creation of the master plan.
The Gulf Park Campus, which received damage to every building from Katrina, lost approximately 270,000 square feet of space. As an interim measure, 74,000 square feet was leased at the Gulf Coast Student Center location. But as of the July 2008, 139,000 square feet of classroom and office space have been repaired and are in use on the Gulf Park Campus. The process of renovating the remaining damaged buildings on campus has begun and it is expected that the buildings will be renovated in the next three years.
Off the beach
William Carey University’s (WCU) 20-acre campus in Gulfport was devastated by the 140-mile per hour winds and a 35-foot storm surge. Since then, the college has coped by accommodating Coast students on the Hattiesburg campus and with on-line offerings, as well as conducting class meetings in First Missionary Baptist Church and Gulfport High School. The university has also used 16 modular buildings on the campus site and will continue to do so until the new campus at Tradition is opened in the fall of 2009.
WCU decided to rebuild inland to escape the threat of another hurricane, said president Tommy King.
“The high cost of insurance was also a factor in the decision not to rebuild on the beach,” King said.
Phase I of WCU-Tradition is under construction at a cost of $14 million. This amount does not include furnishings and other add ons. It is the first of four phases to be constructed on the site within the 4,800-acre Tradition planned community. The present construction of approximately 60,000 square feet includes classrooms, administrative space, offices, science and computer laboratories, library, bookstore and student lounge. Free standing buildings for facilities and security are a part of the current construction. Extensive, tree-lined parking areas will be available and will include a number of zones. Tasteful and attractive landscaping will be installed throughout the area.
“We open for classes in fall 2009,” King said, who is the first graduate of WCU to serve as president. “Business, education, nursing and psychology are popular majors and demand continues in these areas as well as in the art program.”
King said its Hattiesburg campus continues to experience enrollment increases. Following Katrina, the New Orleans campus, which houses a School of Nursing, was reopened in spring 2006 and held its first graduation ceremony in February 2008.
Recovery was slow on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on which its building is located. Its new building experienced little damage, but the rest of the campus was heavily damaged.
“Throughout the trials and recovery related to Hurricane Katrina, the university continued to embrace our motto, the watchword of our namesake William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement: ‘Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God,” King said. “William Carey intends to continue to serve the higher education needs of individuals on the Gulf Coast who desire the supportive, personal attention that is Carey’s hallmark.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.