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Merger no longer a threat for Mississippi Valley State

Over the years as the fate of a small, Black, rural institution unfolded in and out of the court, business was as usual as it could have been at Mississippi Valley State University.


MVSU President William Sutton made sure of that, Recruitment efforts are in high gear and multimillion dollar renovation and new construction projects are underway on the campus that Sutton calls an “oasis in the cotton patch providing hope where despair dominated.”


And now that Mississippi’s College Board announced recently that it is no longer recommending the consolidation of traditionally white Delta State University and Mississippi Valley State University, Sutton is relieved. “The Board’s announcement was critically important to MVSU,” said Sutton.


Federal Judge Neal M. Biggers Jr., in his March, 1955 ruling in the college desegregation case United States vs. Fordice, had ordered that a Committee study how best to desegregate higher education.


A three-member committee, handpicked by the College Board, concluded in a long-awaited report that there are better ways to desegregate higher education in the Mississippi Delta than consolidating Delta State University and MVSU.


“Closing MVSU, which currently plays a critical role as an access institution for economically and educationally disadvantaged students from the Delta, is likely to have a negative impact on minority students’ access to and success in higher education,” said Robert Kronley, one of the report’s three authors and a consultant with the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation.


William A. Butts, special assistant to the Commissioner of Higher Education and Dr. Walter A. Washington, former president of Mississippi’s Alcorn State University, also compiled the report, “Transformation Through Collaboration: Desegregating Higher Education in the Mississippi Delta.”


The College Board is also expected to consider 10 recommendations outlined in the report for enhancing MVSU with such things as new academic programs, funds for other-race scholarships, upgraded facilities, and faculty exchanges.


“The cloud of closure or merger has been a source of negative publicity since the board’s 1992 announcement,” says Sutton, about the initial call to close or merge Mississippi Valley.


 In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Mississippi to remove all vestiges of its dual system. One solution was a controversial proposal by the College Board calling for closure or merger of some Black universities with traditionally white ones.


With the threat of closure or merger behind them, MVSU faces yet another daunting task — attracting enough qualified students for its freshman class. New admissions standards called for in judge Bigger’s 1995 court order are wreaking havoc on admissions efforts, say those responsible for recruiting university students. Also in his ruling, judge Biggers ordered the state to establish one set of admissions standards for all eight of its universities. Until now, the standards varied from institution to institution, with less stringent requirements at the Mack universities.


Those with at least a 2.5 average will have to score 16 or higher on the American College Test (ACT) or 650 on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), Students with a 2.0 grade average must score 18 or higher on the ACT or 740 on the SAT, according to Charles Pickett, associate commissioner for academic affairs of Mississippi’s College Board.


“We didn’t sit still and wait and see if there would be an injunction,” to block new admissions standards to the state’s eight public universities, said Dr. Roy Hudson, Valley vice president. “We’ve been busy with our recruiting effort,” which has included going door-to-door, setting up booths in shopping malls, in churches, running print and broadcast advertisements.


“We’re doing all we can to get students in here.” On June 3, Mississippi Valley and the state’s seven other public universities launched a nine-week Summer Developmental Program for students who did not meet all of the criteria for admission to one of the institutions.


But just a week before Mississippi Valley’s program was set to begin, only 18 students had applied to Valley’s program, said Dr. Maxine Rush director of admissions at the university, out of about 150 students who qualified.


During the summer program, Mississippi students are “expected to overcome four years of deficiencies,” says Hudson. “The standards have been summarily raised, but who’s looking at improving the preparation of students in K-12? Without that, you can’t expect changes to come overnight.”


If the new standards had been in place during the 1994-95 academic year, more than 40 percent of Valley’s students would have fallen Into the state’s new “conditional admissions category,” contends Hudson.


A year ago the students being tapped for the summer developmental program would have been admitted, said Rush, but “in 1996, they are having to go through summer courses.”


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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