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MC Hosts Annual MAC Conference to Explore Cutting-Edge Education Concepts, Build State’s Future

MC Hosts Annual MAC Conference to Explore Cutting-Edge Education Concepts, Build State’s Future

The role of postsecondary education institutions in paving the way to a more promising future for Mississippi is the theme of a statewide conference hosted by Mississippi College Monday-Tuesday, July 8-9, at the Jackson Convention Center.

“Building Mississippi’s Future,” the 2024 Mississippi Association of Colleges and Universities (MAC) annual conference, will attract administrators, educators, executives, and students from more than 30 degree-granting institutions in the Magnolia State seeking to learn how to positively influence succeeding generations.

According to Jason Dean, executive director of the Mississippi Alliance for Independent Colleges and Universities (MAICU), the dynamic conference will cover some of today’s hot-button topics, from artificial intelligence to workforce training and participation.

“There’s a burgeoning effort to more tightly couple with state-level issues that are mutually beneficial to the entire postsecondary education system,” Dean said. “Every school has a role to play in workforce training and workforce development.

“There are other interesting themes we’re all challenged with, such as AI in higher education. The implications are endless.”

Dean said the conference will bring together representatives from the “Triple Helix of Innovation” – government, private sector, and academia – to discuss leading issues in postsecondary education and help position the state’s institutions of higher learning to better serve the citizens of tomorrow.

“We can’t meet in an echo chamber and hope things will happen as a result,” he said. “We have to involve partners what want the same things we want and get on the same page. While the focus of this conference is on issues in postsecondary education, other agencies and companies whp have a vested interest in the state’s success will also be at the table.”

A MAC Attendees Reception will precede the conference at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 8, in the Westin Hotel on 407 South Congress Street in Jackson.

At 8:45 the following morning, Mississippi College President and 2024 MAC chair Blake Thompson will welcome the attendees and will explain the conference’s purpose and objectives. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves will offer opening remarks at 9 a.m.

Leaders of Mississippi’s public university, community college, and private college systems – including Al Rankins, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning commissioner; Kell Smith, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board; and Dean – will kick off the conference by providing insight and perspective on the top issues facing their systems today during Postsecondary Education System Discussions moderated by Thompson.

A General Session, “AI in Higher Education: Workforce, Teaching, and Research,” will examine the impact Artificial Intelligence is having on postsecondary education and predict what the future of AI could bring.

Following visits with private-sector vendor partners and networking sessions among attendees, concurrent interactive breakout sessions will focus on four emerging topics critical to postsecondary education. Among them:

* An Information technology session will catalog many of the state’s remarkable IT sector advantages, ranging from its nation-leading High-Performance Computing capacity to supporting physical infrastructure like the MissiON Network. Using the Skills Foundation of Mississippi’s recently published “IT Skills Gap in Mississippi,” attendees will learn how the state’s postsecondary education community can be part of the solution to some of the challenges the state faces in this sector.

* A session on Health Care Services will cover healthcare workforce challenges faced by Mississippi that were highlighted by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, including shortages of medical professionals, high turnover rates, and a lack of access to adequate resources. Mississippi’s colleges and universities are positioned to provide access to training and educational opportunities key to the development of skilled workers to support this sector.

* A Financial Aid Update will provide important information from the Office of State Student Financial Aid, including updates related to Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the state of financial aid programs, and recent efforts to modernize Higher Education Loan Program (HELP), Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant Program (MTAG), and Mississippi Eminent Scholars Grant Program (MESG) grant.

“There’s been a push to reimagine what the financial aid system in Mississippi ought to look like,” Dean said. “We’ll talk about that – and we’ll also cover some concepts around FAFSA reform.”

* A session on Incarcerated Citizens, Higher Education, and Career Credentials will investigate some of the programs in Mississippi that are supporting prisoner workforce training and what the implications may be for the future.

Evidence suggests that prisoners who develop workforce skills that lead to a certificate or other postsecondary training are 80-percent less likely to be reincarcerated. Policies have begun to align to provide resources to facilitate this movement.

“There’s been a real push towards prisoner workforce training,” Dean said. “If you give a prisoner some kind of training while they are incarcerated, the recidivism rate goes down significantly. That’s amazing.

“If you have prisoners who desire training, and we need them in the workforce, why not create systems that do exactly what they are intended to do? It’s the right thing to do.”

He said the breakout sessions will reflect the “Triple Helix of Innovation” concept.

“We have representatives from the private sector, academia, and government, and our moderators are from nonprofits,” he said. “The purpose is to lay out the challenges and remind our collegiate partners that they are the only suppliers to the workforce. The education pipeline and the workforce pipeline has to intersect, which is why we are highlighting IT.

“Colleges have to be responsive, read the tea leaves, and provide the training that the private sector needs to grow the economy.”

Lunch will include the Halbrook Award Ceremony and keynote remarks. The second general session, “The Ascent to 55-Percent Report,” will begin the afternoon session. The objectives of the plan in Mississippi is to increase the number of working-age residents with postsecondary degrees or credentials to 55 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2035.

The Mississippi Economic Council’s Public Education Forum was selected by the Woodward Hines Education Foundation to develop and implement a strategy to make progress towards that goal. This session will establish the baseline plan around the five “As:” alignment, affordability, awareness, accessibility, and accountability.

“There will be some discussion of major Jackson-area development in the technology space,” Dean said. “Ascent to 55 Percent is focused on increasing the number of Mississippians with career credentials, whether it’s a short-term certificate or a Ph.D. in computer engineering.”

The conference will conclude with Affinity Group Breakout sessions, in which student affairs professionals, provosts, financial aid professionals, and others from different educational institutions participate in discussions about common issues.

“We’re offering something that’s interesting to everybody,” Dean said. “The push here is to re-center what MAC is and to focus on our ability to integrate with other parts of the state, the private sector, and government.

“The key takeaway is an understanding that the colleges in our state are the primary supplier of workforce demand in Mississippi. The government, private sector, and academia must work together in a thoughtful, systematic way to provide what’s needed to have a robust economy in our state for our future.”

For more information about the conference, click here.