By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
2011 marked a year of growth and achievement for Mississippi State University.
“I would say, reflecting on the last year, that it was a very good year for Mississippi State,” MSU President Mark Keenum said. “We began the year quite concerned with facing budget cuts from state and federal funding. We were making preparations for those cuts and although we did receive a reduction in funding in 2011, it was not nearly as severe as we expected.”
Those budget cuts did have the severe impact on the university as feared thanks in part to a record-breaking year for enrollment. Student enrollment increased 3.97 percent from 2010, surpassing 20,000 for the first time. Enrollment increased for the seventh consecutive year, topping out at 20,424 students, including 700 students at the Meridian campus.
In addition to an overall increase in enrollment, MSU saw an 8.7 percent increase in African American student enrollment.
Keenum set an enrollment goal of 22,000 students by 2015. The university expects another record-breaking year in enrollment in 2012, and Keenum said his goal may be met sooner than expected.
“I think parents and students recognize the high quality education Mississippi State can offer them in almost any field they choose — anything they want to be in life — and prepare them a bright future,” he said.
In the 2011 fiscal year, MSU marked a new milestone for private gifts and pledges of future support, receiving $80.3 million, a 23 percent increase from the 2010 fiscal year. John P. Rush, vice president for development and alumni, credited the MSU Foundation’s StatePride initiative, which focuses on student scholarships and faculty support, for the increase in donations.
“It’s indicative that our alumni base and friends of the university sense that there are really good things happening right now at Mississippi State,” Keenum said. “There’s a sense of excitement about what our university is doing. We’re preparing future leaders of both Mississippi and the country with research, outreach and service.”
With budget worries behind them, university employees were given a pay raise for the first time in four years, which Keenum said was long overdue and much deserved.
The university, students and faculty all received national and international attention and honors in 2011.
MSU was designated “a very high research activity university” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which is the highest level of research activity for a doctorate-granting university in the country. MSU is the only university in the state with the designation and one of approximately 108 nationwide. The foundation also recognized MSU for its community outreach efforts.
The university was also ranked the third healthiest college in the country, behind only Harvard University and Louisiana State University, in a report by The Daily Beast and Newsweek. The report took into account sexual health, drug scene, physical activity, campus food and student health care. Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Kibler said he hoped the students would continue healthy habits after they left the university and help transform Mississippi’s reputation as an unhealthy state.
A number of MSU’s student organizations earned national recognition, including the university’s Panhellenic Council, which was awarded for was granted the National Panhellenic Council’s 2011 Overall Excellence Award, the Beta Alpha Psi honors society, which was named the 2011-12 Distinguished Chapter, and the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, which was awarded the organization’s Harvard Trophy for achieving the status of most outstanding chapter at a large university.
Keenum said 2012 will hold big things for MSU. The university is in the process of building two new residence halls which will open in the spring and a privately-funded football complex. Renovations for Lee Hall and a new educational building are in the plans for the new year as well.
One of the university president’s main goals for the year includes encouraging the state government to continue supporting public universities. While he expects some reduction in funding, Keenum said he hopes legislators will hold it to a minimum.
“We’re going to have new leadership but we’re still very concerned about the national and state budget. Our state economy is moving forward but at a very slow pace,” he said. “We want to make sure that the new leadership understands the role we all collectively play in moving our state forward with job creation and helping to attract industry to Mississippi by producing leaders in engineering, education, architecture, agriculture, veterinarians and almost any field.”
Even if the university receives budget cuts, Keenum remains confident that MSU’s fundraising and strong enrollment will ensure 2012 will be another good year.
“In spite of some challenges, the future is still bright at Mississippi State,” Keenum said.