Preparing for the 21st Century
Dr. Todd’s administration was committed to preparing Mississippi College for the 21st century. As part of that mission, Dr. Todd targeted a number of physical improvements to maintain and replicate the architectural character of the Mississippi College campus. Renovations and remodeling of Latimer-Webb, Mary Nelson, and Whittington residence halls were completed. Nelson Hall and Alumni Hall were renovated. Self, Farr, and Aven halls also received renovations. In addition to renovations, the Foreign Language Learning Center, a multimedia language lab, was added to Jennings Hall, and state-of-the-art soundproof music practice rooms were installed in Aven Fine Arts Building. New construction included men’s and women’s residence halls, a 106,000 square foot health facility, and a math, computer science, and chemistry complex. A campus-wide computer network, MCNET, was installed to offer access to the Internet and act as a communication link for all administration, faculty, staff, and students. In 2002, MC successfully completed a $100 million capital campaign entitled “New Dawn” launched in 1996, the largest campaign in the school’s history. Through these physical, financial and technological advances, Mississippi College can continue its legacy of academic excellence and Christian witness while offering the best of the total university experience.
Growing the Vision
In June 2001, Dr. Howell Todd retired as president of the university after serving seven years. The Board of Trustees named Dr. Lloyd Roberts, vice president for business affairs and professor of management, to serve as Interim President from July 2001 until June 30, 2002. Dr. Lee G. Royce became the 19th president of Mississippi College on July 1, 2002.
Mississippi College enjoyed steady enrollment increases, experienced a renaissance of campus facilities, and reported extraordinary levels of gift giving under President Lee Royce. Enrollment reached a peak of nearly 5,300 students, including record numbers living in university residence halls. Spacious University Place residence halls, the first built in nearly two decades, opened in 2015. The MC Law School has also experienced a building boom on its Jackson campus. A successful “Growing the Vision” campaign to boost student scholarships, expand the university endowment, enhance facilities and strengthen academic programs raised $87.4 million upon completion in Fall 2011. It began as a $65 million drive in 2006, but school trustees raised it to $80 million, despite a weak USA economy. MC leaders celebrated the university’s 190th anniversary in 2016 with special concerts, plays, guest speakers, along with a Blue & Gold birthday cake.
Mississippi College’s rapid growth accelerated upon Dr. Royce’s arrival in July 2002 after serving four years as president of Anderson University in South Carolina. MC enrollment climbed steadily from the 3,227 students in 2002. There are more than 5,000 students today. MC’s 261 international students enrolled in Fall 2017 come from 43 nations. The enrollment leaders are China, India, Saudi Arabia and Nepal. There were just nine international students in 2002 when Dr. Royce arrived. President Royce will retire in May 2018 after leading America’s second oldest Baptist college for 16 years. He and his wife, Rhoda, will move to northern Virginia to be near their son, Mark, a college teacher in the region.
Leading the 192-year-old university based in Clinton has been the greatest honor in the life of the Vanderbilt University graduate. Other major accomplishments under Dr. Royce’s tenure: the school budget of $38.7 million in 2002 grew to $75.5 million or nearly doubled. The MC endowment shot up from $36 million to $80.9 million. The percentage of faculty rose by 38 percent to climb to 213 during his leadership.
At MC in 2002, Dr. Royce immediately went to work to strengthen finances, boost enrollment and drive partnerships with Clinton and metro Jackson. He strengthened United Way campaigns among faculty and staff. He’s a longtime United Way leader. At annual MC Spring Scholarship dinners initiated in 2008, MC attracted nationally recognized speakers. They included U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The scholarship dinners have raised more than $3 million. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel served as the keynote speaker in 2017. Dr. Royce strongly endorsed MC’s move to NCAA Division II athletics and a return to the Gulf South Conference in 17 sports. MC began its 4th season back in NCAA Division II in 2017. MC sports facilities for football, baseball, basketball, track, soccer and other sports have received significant upgrades.
Mississippi College’s accomplished leader received several major awards during his tenure, including Clinton Citizen of the Year. He was saluted by the Council for the Advancement & Support of Education as the District III chief executive of the year. Over the years, President Royce remained thankful of the strong support from the Mississippi Baptist Convention. In his retirement message to the faculty and staff, Dr. Royce noted more than 1,100 MC students made first-time professions of faith in Christ since 2002. He’s thankful for the enormous support for MC coming from the Clinton community, from the City Hall to the business community and the city’s stellar public school district. The MC relationship with the district, one of the best in Mississippi, runs deep. About 64 percent of the Clinton district employees are graduates of Mississippi College.
The Christian university is looking ahead to plans to celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2026. America’s second oldest Baptist college, MC continues to see its reputation grow, with high marks in annual publications such as the “U.S. News & World Report” guide to the nation’s colleges.