Lawmaker’s bill proposes closing 3 Mississippi universities. Which ones would be on chopping block?

Published 7:50 am Sunday, March 3, 2024

A bill proposed in Mississippi would close three of the state’s eight public universities, but lawmakers in the House and Senate said Wednesday that it is unlikely to pass.

Under the proposal from Republican Sen. John Polk of Hattiesburg, the board that governs the eight schools would choose three to close by June 30, 2028. The bill does not specify which institutions would close but says the board would make the decision based on enrollment, federal aid, tuition rates, degree programs and local economic impact.

House Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman Donnie Scoggin, a Republican from Ellisville, said he had not studied Polk’s bill, but a study committee to evaluate those metrics would be a necessary prerequisite.
“I am not for closing any of the colleges at this time without having a whole lot more knowledge,” Scoggin told The Associated Press. “I would not support that without knowing a whole lot more.”

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Citing declining enrollment at several institutions, Polk has said the Legislature is appropriating too much money to keep the universities afloat. He declined to comment further on Wednesday.

Polk’s proposal is not the first attempt to reduce the number of universities in Mississippi.

In 2009, then-Gov. Haley Barbour said Mississippi could not afford to keep all eight. Barbour, a Republican, proposed reducing the number to five by merging Mississippi University for Women into Mississippi State University and consolidating the three historically Black universities — Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State — into one school with Jackson State in charge. His proposal never gained traction because of widespread opposition from legislators and alumni groups.

Democratic Sen. Hillman Frazier of Jackson said Barbour’s failure showed there has never been a strong appetite for closing institutions in Mississippi. He also said the universities could reverse their enrollment declines with more state support.

“If you give the institutions the tools they need to attract students, that will address that,” Frazier said. “It sounds good politically, trying to be a fiscal conservative, but we need to give our universities the tools they need to be successful.”

Mississippi University for Women has attempted to recruit more students by switching to a name that doesn’t include the word “Women.” But the university said last week that it was pausing that rebranding effort.
Republican Sen. Nicole Boyd of Oxford, who chairs the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee, said she was still reviewing Polk’s legislation with no immediate plan to bring it up for a vote.