By CARL SMITH
When Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum took office in 2009, he made it his goal to keep the university as the flagship institution of higher learning in the state and have 22,000 students enrolled by 2015.
He is ahead of schedule.
MSU has four years now to grow by a little more than 1,500 students to reach Keenum’s goal.
On Friday, MSU and other Mississippi public universities reported their preliminary enrollment numbers for the fall semester. For the first time in its history, MSU’s enrollment crossed the 20,000-student threshold. The university reported 20,424 students enrolled for fall semester. This year’s enrollment is up by 780 students from last year and marks MSU’s seventh consecutive year of growth. Of the 20,424 students, 72.7 percent are from Mississippi. The school’s average ACT score has risen to 23.6.
“I am pleasantly pleased with the response from students across state and region who come to Mississippi State to further their education,” Keenum said. “We’re attracting more and more of the best and brightest students. Our average ACT score is going up, and it speaks absolutely of the quality students we’re recruiting.”
As the university’s student body continues to increase in size, Keenum said future plans are in the works to provide new classrooms and infrastructure to match growth.
Two new residence halls are currently under construction in the former location of Arbour Acres on the south side of campus. Keenum said plans for a new facility directly behind the historic YMCA building near the Colvard Student Union are in the works and will be presented to the state college board in the future. The facility will provide 60,000 square feet of classroom space, he said, and could also provide a central, on-campus parking location.
While MSU is developing plans to accommodate a growing student population, other Mississippi public universities are experience the same growth and expansion.
Alcorn State recorded the largest enrollment growth percentage — 19.3 percent — while Ole Miss added 1,276 students — the largest numerical gain — to its main university and medical school. Delta State (6.9 percent), Jackson State (2.5 percent), Mississippi University for Women (2.9 percent) and Southern Miss (4.6 percent) all reported increased fall enrollment. Mississippi Valley State reported the only downturn in enrollment. The school is down 110 students — 4.2 percent — compared to last year’s numbers.
The state public university system has experienced annual enrollment increases since 1994. This year’s growth — almost 4,000 students systemwide — marks the largest increase in its history.
“This record increase is a very positive sign for economic development in our state. A better educated citizenry stabilizes the economy and creates better opportunities to bring good jobs to our state,” said Hank Bounds, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning commissioner. “While record enrollment is great news for our state, it does present challenges. We must ensure that we have the capacity — faculty, facilities and services — to serve our students adequately. Universities must have the resources necessary to provide the highest quality education to our students. Higher education provides the best return on investment for our citizens as individuals and our state as a whole.”