DAVID DALLAS — Mississippi needs one university

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Published: August 25,2014

Tags: Business, David Dallas, education, IHL, leadership, Mississippi

Rebel_black_bearFootball season is here and what better time to consider consolidating our public universities in Mississippi as we strive for that coveted spot in the BCS national championship. After all, what is the value of higher education if alums can only brag about Rhodes Scholars.

While school consolidation in many ways has proven detrimental to our primary and secondary school education system and has not demonstrated the anticipated cost savings, consolidating Mississippi’s public universities could actually save us money. It’s all about the costs associated with programming and offerings as each of our institution is obligated to be all things to all people in order to increase enrollment.

Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning Office has made enrollment increases paramount and sadly it is less about education of our citizenry and more about bringing dollars into public coffers to pay for everything from over-priced administrators, consultants, and contractors. With the excitement level associated with this year’s football season for both State and Ole Miss, there is no need to bring up other ridiculous expenses, like those coaching salaries.

There are some in IHL whispering about cutting programs, consolidating, and even closing one or two of our public universities. They recognize it’s the only way this poorly managed system can survive. IHL has likely been considering a variety of scenarios to strengthen our higher education system and save money. But before they think about closing schools, hopefully, they will consider this.

Okay, no need to really worry, we wouldn’t dream of just one University of Mississippi for the entire state, the title of this column was only an attempt to get you to read it.

Mississippi State is a land grant institution as set for in the Morris Act of 1862, to focus teaching on agriculture, science, military science, and engineering “without excluding classical studies.” All scientist should have an understanding of Latin origins, after all. Alcorn State University was also established as a land grant institution. So these two schools should be united along with Mississippi University for Women based on its proximity to Starkville. In addition, either Mississippi Valley State or Delta State should also be included with this group to strengthen the agricultural component of their Delta Branch Experiment Station in Stoneville. But the focus and the programs beyond agriculture, science, and engineering should be given up and handed over to the University of Mississippi.

Now this is exciting stuff. Currently the University of Mississippi already has a medical Center in Jackson. One could argue about the science of biology being transferred over to Mississippi State at this point, but let’s not for the sake of this optimistic proposal.

The main campus of the University of Mississippi would be at Jackson State and focused exclusively on Liberal Arts Education, languages, etc. The University of Mississippi at Oxford would focus on Business Studies, Pharmacy, Law, and Literature, particularly for graduate level work. The University of Mississippi in Hattiesburg would focus on the performance arts. The University of Mississippi in the Delta would focus on teacher education. To really save money Oxford, Hattiesburg, and either Itta Bena or Cleveland could be branch campuses instead of stand alone institutions. Of course they could still play football games in Oxford, like the University of Alabama hosting in both Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. Fewer trips to the Grove just makes it all the more special.

Other benefits include better funding for distance learning classrooms for students unable to live on campus or commute to University for their degree of choice. Instead of having several mediocre programs at three or more of our public Universities, we could have one strong well-funded program that would be highly accredited and draw those much needed out-of-state tuition and research dollars.

A streamlined and efficient higher education system to better educate our citizens and communities will demand Herculean political will and loads of compromise. The real problem is the lack of vision from the leadership at IHL. Their track record for money management and oversight is not good and there is no indication it will improve.

There will never be a enough money to continue operating our pulbic universities as we do now. Tuition which is already growing at a much faster pace than the rate of inflation, will sky-rocket. So too will our taxes and other fees associated with higher education. Course offerings and programs at all our universities will continue to suffer death by a thousand cuts.

So, are you ready for some football?

» David Dallas is a political writer. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.

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