Mississippi’s four-year colleges have a special challenge: Within the next five years, they are challenged to significantly increase the number of quality baccalaureate graduates who will be well prepared for the information-based economy. The goal itself is not unusual among the states. Our job is special, however, because we must achieve it while reducing budgets, classes, and programs, and increasing tuition as state appropriations will be reduced significantly.
The challenge for Mississippi’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is even more daunting. Historically underfunded and with much less access to wealth than historically white schools, HBCUs have fewer resources in their charitable support foundations. In addition, state appropriations are a much larger percentage of HBCU budgets compared with their historically white counterparts. Therefore, the reductions will cut more deeply, with fewer private resources to ease the pain.
Jackson State University (JSU), the only HBCU research university in Mississippi, started planning for the present fiscal realities more than two years ago. Currently, JSU is regenerating itself as a less costly “new academy” that is capable of producing globally competitive graduates.
The planning process to become a “new academy” has been unique. During a six-month exercise, faculty determined the characteristics of the type of graduates the world will require in the next decade. Then, each academic department and program was assessed based on 27 faculty-developed criteria to determine whether it—alone, in a different form, or in combination with other programs—is capable of producing the type of graduates that the global, information-based economy requires.
The most interesting process component involved public presentations by each academic department regarding the current state of the academic discipline, projected developments in the discipline, the department’s potential role in the new academy, and opportunities to increase academic efficiencies through synergistic relationships with other academic disciplines. This university-wide sharing of ideas generated numerous exciting learning and research opportunities.
In late February, a proposal was presented for discussion within the university community. We at JSU hope that it will strengthen our ability to educate and expand knowledge in a dynamic and ever-changing world.
I am sure that the pros and cons of the proposal will be discussed in a lively manner. However, because being a smaller version of what we are today is not a formula for success, I am confident that we will work our way through the conversation and be stronger for having done so.
Ronald Mason, Jr., is president of Jackson State University.