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Barbour might not be so crazy after all

November 18th, 2009

Once you start asking around about Gov. Haley Barbour’s proposal to merge three Mississippi universities into two others, the more you realize that it likely will never happen.
That’s not to say that the idea that the Mississippi University for Women merge with Mississippi State University, and for Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University to merge with Jackson State has no merit.
I think everyone recognizes the financial condition the state is in.
Even Democrats in Mississippi know that something has to be done.
“He is simply thinking outside the box and looking for new and innovative ways to save money. We should not be critical of that,” said Democratic representative David Norquist of Cleveland. “Having said that, however, I personally do not think that mergers and consolidation are the answer, and I cannot support his position.”
Understood.
But off the campuses of Alcorn, MVSU and MUW, the distaste for mergers and consolidation might not be as noticeable.
We know that folks have been tossing around the idea of higher education mergers for nearly 30 years, maybe more.
So, let’s take away the possibility that Barbour has some grudge against historically black colleges and universities. Let’s take away the possibility that Barbour has a grudge against women.
Why then might he be willing to take action with ASU, MVSU and MUW?
Performance.
All three schools have lost significant enrollment from their high points in the last 15 years.
• Alcorn has lost 8.5 percent to its current total of 3,339.
• MUW has lost 21 percent from its high in 1998 to it current total of 2,478.
• And Mississippi Valley has lost 20 percent from its high in 2003 to its current total of 2,819.
Sure all three schools serve a special niche and have a special mission, but to look at the enrollment numbers of the last 20 years, there are wild ups and downs and lots of volatility.
All of that suggests a lack of stability and leadership, which could have led Barbour to believe that while being able to save money with mergers, he might also be creating a better environment to learn.
The other small college in the equation is Delta State University, which Barbour did not identify for change. A look at its enrollment shows a positive change of just 37 students between 1990 and 2009, which is remarkably stable.
Barbour, without regard to race or gender, has chosen three schools for mergers where the recent past has been anything but firm.
Certainly, this debate is more complicated than an analysis of enrollment, but there have to be people willing to think outside the box.
And, while he may have a hard time getting this through the legislature, it isn’t as if Barbour pulled this scenario or idea out of thin air.

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