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Center provides access to education and enrichment

Greenville — The Greenville Higher Education Center is a good example of partners coming together to serve the needs of the community. Opened in January 2001, the center is the result of work and cooperation by city and county officials, state legislators and three area education institutions to provide college classes in a convenient location.

The education partners include Delta State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Mississippi Delta Community College and the higher education center itself. The mission is to provide education access to people who for whatever reasons can not get to the main campuses. The idea was to bring the instructors and the college classes to residents of the Greenville area.

“This is the best example of the practice of partnering in the Delta that I’ve seen,” said the center’s director, Dr. Mary Jean Lush. “It started as a brain storming session in Greenville. The center is here to serve students who can’t get to the main campuses because of transportation, child care and working issues.”

She says it takes an average of 45 minutes to one hour to drive to the home campuses of each of the institutions. Delta State’s main campus is in Cleveland. Valley’s is in Itta Bena, and Mississippi Delta Community College’s home campus is in Moorhead. The Greenville Higher Education Center is located on a 40-acre site on U.S. 1 South, just inside the city limits.

Each partner school offers courses which Lush puts into a schedule. Students apply to one of the participating institutions at the Greenville Center where each school sends enrollment officials.

“Some of the students may have to go on the home campuses but that’s rare,” she said. “The faculty at the center is the same faculty hired by each of the schools for their main campuses.”

The Greenville Higher Education Center provides classroom space and laboratories for computer, art and science courses. The art lab has a kiln. There’s also a nursing lab set up as a simulated hospital, complete with beds.

“Each school offers day, night and Saturday classes,” Lush said. “Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. and in the evening from 6 to 10 p.m. our classrooms are full.”

She says the student population tends to be non-traditional or those students who would not go to the institutions’ home campuses. However, that student population is in somewhat of a transition now.

“We enjoyed a 33% average increase annually each year until last year when we had a slight decline in enrollment,” Lush said. “But, we had an increased credit hour production. That tells me students are taking more classes for credit and that means more traditional students are taking more classes.”

The director says that transition is not a bad thing because it adds a greater level of consistency to what the center is trying to do. She hastens to add that the center still wants to serve non traditional students and the whole community.

The duplicated enrollment (students counted in each class they’re taking) was 7,265 for the 2004-05 school year, and 7,589 for the ‘05-’06 school year. The non-duplicated enrollment, counting students one time, was 4,000 in ‘04-’05 and 3,000 in ‘05-’06.

As part of its mission to serve the whole community, the center has Senior Semesters to offer classes at reduced prices. Lush says these students just want to learn and are not concerned about earning credit. These classes are funded through a grant from the Kings Daughters and Sons, Circle 2, in Greenville.

“We submitted a curriculum for senior citizens and that includes computer courses and enrichment courses,” she said. “We’re adapting it to include some career courses. Senior Citizens are excited about what they’re learning, and we’re continuing to look at the curriculum and adapting it.”

The Higher Education Center is offering something new this year, training for business and industry. A community relations coordinator, Kim Dowdy, was hired recently to work with clients.

“We do a needs assessment and tailor the training to meet the needs of the client,” Lush said. “We can do the training on our campus or at the client’s work site.”

In a broader mission, the center serves different segments of the community, provides economic development and enrichment opportunities. The Delta Arts and Lecture Series is an example of enrichment. The series is ongoing throughout the year and brings noted speakers to the community.

Working in collaboration with the River Group, the Delta Radio Hour is an offshoot of the series and airs twice a month on Saturdays from 5 to 6 p.m. “It’s an opportunity to highlight Mississippi culture, writers and entertainers,” Lush said. “People talk about various things going on in the community. We have door prizes and local restaurants provide refreshments. It’s a fun thing.”

For an upcoming radio program, two remaining members of the Hot Biscuit Boys, a group that sang on the radio in the 1930s and 40s, will entertain listeners.

Tapping into Greenville’s rich literary tradition, the center sponsors the yearly Mississippi Delta Literary Festival which will be held October 27-29 this year.

Looking ahead, Lush sees growth for the center and is trying to generate interest in a second building on campus. She is also pleased that the center was approved by a regional accrediting council to award associate degrees. Two graduation ceremonies have already been held and she anticipates many more.

“We want to serve the community and provide access to education and economic development,” she reaffirmed.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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