Mississippi College

MC Growth Spurt Continues in 2008-2009

July 17, 2008

Clinton High graduates Chris Peace and Melanie Greer will stick close to home when they join a record 5,000 Mississippi College students expected to enroll this fall.

Amid $4 per gallon gas prices this summer and a souring U.S. economy, students keep flocking to MC. There were a record 4,600 students attending the Christian university last fall.

"Our enrollment is going like gangbusters," says retired MC administrator Doc Quick of Clinton, who remembers there were a little more than 1,000 MC students when he arrived in 1960. "It's been healthy growth."

Coming to MC made good sense for the 18-year-old freshmen Peace and Greer who will be part of MC's 2008-2009 academic scene featuring new programs, packed dorms and more than $2 million in campus renovations this summer. Classes begin in late August. All signs reflect even more growth ahead for the 182-year-old university on College Street.

"It was a God thing," Peace said of his path to MC, a few miles from his home. There was little time for conversation on a humid July afternoon as he headed to freshman orientation. "It's a Christian college with a good School of Business." That's how the Jackson native, a future accounting major, summed up his decision to become an MC Choctaw.

"Growing up around the school - we always went to Homecoming football games," Melanie Greer said. "I wanted to study abroad. Everyone was just real welcoming," added the daughter of Tony and Sharon Greer. Both MC graduates, her parents first met at MC and today are in the real estate business in Clinton.

At least 20 Clinton High grads are among thousands of students from Mississippi, other parts of the South and at least 26 nations signing up for classes at the nation's second oldest Baptist college. Home of 16 Choctaws' athletic teams, MC is Mississippi's oldest institution of higher learning. In terms of size it is bigger than such schools as Delta State University, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State University.

The state's oldest school is definitely not old-school. It's got an appeal stretching from recent high school graduates to working adults into their forties, fifties and beyond.

"Enrollment appears to be very strong again this fall," said Jim Turcotte, MC vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. "We anticipate an enrollment headcount that may exceed 5,000 for the first time in our history." The numbers include the Clinton campus, the Mississippi College School of Law in downtown Jackson, and branches aimed at working adults in Brandon and Madison. The Accelerated Degree Program makes it easier for people in the workforce to earn MC diplomas. The MC School of Law unveils its new executive law program designed to cater to busy professionals so they can earn law degrees while working. Instead of the traditional three years, they will get up to five years to earn their MCSOL degrees.

Students, faculty, staff and alums see lots of positive signs at MC that's experiencing a blitz of new building projects - from paint jobs to new roofs to renovations for residence halls. In mid-July, workers were hammering away to put the wood flooring platforms down at modern classroom buildings on the third floor of Self Hall, headquarters of the School of Business. Work to remodel the business school's auditorium will be next on the to-do list. Elsewhere on campus, new seats installed at 3,800-seat A.E. Wood Coliseum are part of a facelift at the Golden Dome. A new basketball floor is coming soon for fans of the Choctaws.

"It is shaping up to be another banner year for MC," said Ron Howard, vice president for academic affairs. It's not only in terms of enrollment. MC is advancing new programs like engineering physics and sports ministry and on-line RN-BSN degrees for nursing, he noted. The on-line program began in May with 12 registered nurse students taking classes. MC's first doctorate in higher education leadership was unveiled in January 2008 with 19 students and should grow in the new year. MC's pre-medical program recently sent 40 graduates to medical and dental schools, a record number.

The MBA concentration in management information systems is new this fall. It supplements the MBA portfolio of accounting and finance concentrations. Some of the activities for MC's family take them far from the Clinton campus year-round. The School of Nursing sponsored mission trip to Mexico is going on this summer. One day in mid-July, they saw 120 patients and 33 of them made spiritual decisions. Short-term mission trips and community service projects, from a tutoring center in Clinton, to Habitat work in low-income Jackson neighborhoods will be upcoming for hundreds of students again this fall.

It's not all academics, hard work and no time for fun.

The MC family is thrilled about the success of its equestrian team that soon races off to its second year. "For me, the program greatly exceeded our expectations," Jamie Martin, owner of the Providence Hill Farm, the team's headquarters. "We are looking forward to growing the program," and that means more blue ribbons, national winners and additional riders, she said. There were a dozen women on the team last year. Men could be joining the team in future years. In national competition in May that brought 18 of the best collegiate riders to Los Angeles, MC senior Meredith Guider of Utica finished fourth.

Circled in red on this year's MC calendar is the 2008 Backyard Brawl that pits the Choctaws against rival Millsaps in Jackson. The match kicks off MC's football season on Sept. 6. on the Majors' campus. The 7 p.m. football game will be a fund-raiser for a no-kill animal shelter, Community Animal Rescue & Adoption or CARA.

"We appreciate them doing it," CARA director Janet Madden said. "It is a great opportunity for our dogs to be seen by the public." The event at the 2007 Brawl raised awareness and funds for the busy Jackson shelter on 960 North Flag Chapel Road. Several dog adoptions were made at the game last August. It was the first time CARA was involved in the Backyard Brawl. The animal shelter houses up to 300 dogs and 60 cats. Dog-walkers, both children and adults, paraded 50 dogs around the MC track at half-time.

Led by star quarterback Adam Shaffer of Brandon, MC hopes to improve upon its 8-2 season in 2007 and contend for an American Southwest Conference championship in 2008. They will be minus Choctaws star receiver Jake Allen, who is making a strong bid to play for the Green Bay Packers. The former Wayne County High player has been impressive in the NFL team's rookie camp.

Other MC sports teams anticipate winning seasons, from soccer to cross country, from table tennis to basketball.

Led by captain Ken Qiu, a native of China, MC's Table Tennis Team rates as 14th best in the nation. MC will host a four-state ping-pong tournament at the Baptist Healthplex on Oct. 25. Attracting such teams as the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State and the University of New Orleans, the tournament is part of a non-stop list of events on Homecoming weekend, from a parade to alumni receptions to a Choctaws football game.

MC is also making points in national academic circles with high perennial rankings as a top value in U.S. News & World Report year after year. MC President Lee Royce has started his seventh year as the school's leader, with steady growth and a long list of university accomplishments during his tenure.

Under Royce's leadership, MC's enrollment surge and other growth didn't happen by accident. Effective enrollment strategies, a positive public perception of MC, and annual tuition increases of less than 4 percent over the past six years were factors in the Christian university's favor, school officials say.

So is its family atmosphere where students are not just numbers.

A member of Victory in Jesus Outreach Ministries in Jackson and tenor with the Arrow Singers at Clinton High, Chris Peace turned down an offer to go to 16,000-student Mississippi State University in Starkville. He preferred the close-knit atmosphere at MC.

Other factors went into Peace's decision to pursue his college studies at MC.

With gas prices per gallon about the same as skyrocketing milk prices, the Clintonian wanted to avoid expensive road trips from Starkville to his home in Hinds County. He won't have far to travel to his dorm room at Whittington Hall.

MC students checking into refurbished residence halls will see some major building projects at such buildings as Aven Hall, home of the MC Department of Communication, music and art departments.

It won't be a building transformation. But the hiring of a new director, Randy Jolly, at the Gore Galleries that houses MC's art treasures, should boost the facility's visibility. The Gore Galleries expects to attract more school groups from the region and other visitors to the 320-acre MC campus year-round.

PHOTO: Workers install wood flooring in the School of Business's Self Hall.

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