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Miss. Gulf College Leader Expects Growth Over Next 10 Years

GAUTIER, Miss. – Mary Graham, who became the 12th president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) on July 1, said she hopes the college’s enrollment grows by 35 percent to 45 percent in the next 10 years.

The college with eight locations in Jackson, Harrison, George and Stone counties has an enrollment of more than 10,000 students. She said the college touches the lives of about 38,000 students a year when non-credit and work force training programs are added to the enrollment.

Graham thinks much of the growth will come from population growth.

She cautions, “If you have another Katrina and wipe out Harrison County that certainly affects our enrollment.”

Graham said the student population is changing as online courses become more popular.

“I think our online market will double,” she said.

Graham said she prefers a “hybrid student” who has online courses but continues to come to campus “so that you actually have face-to-face time.”

Graham succeeded Willis Lott, who had served for 13 years as president, and, as the college celebrates its centennial, she is making history as the first woman to lead the institution.

Graham said she has worked at the college for 25 years. She most recently served 13 years as vice president of the Perkinston campus, a job that also includes a leadership role for the George County Center.

She had worked as a counselor, recruiter and director of admissions at the Jackson County campus.

Graham also attended the college before going to the University of Southern Mississippi to earn her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.

“It is exciting to now have the opportunity to lead this college because we are embarking on a new strategic plan for the institution, which is a planning phase for the next 10 years,” she said. “We are starting to put the pieces together on that plan and the things that surface are truly our mission, which is to focus on instructional excellence and on student success.”

But, Graham said, “We are a great choice for everyone, but everyone won’t make that choice.”

Graham said the college offers personal attention because of its smaller class sizes compared to many four-year schools.

“We offer a good quality education,” she said. “We focus on students completing what they started out with for their goals.”

Graham said she continues to seek a four-year college or university for the MGCCC’s Jackson County campus.

“We are having conversations with different institutions of higher learning,” she said. “I think it is healthy for Jackson County to have that next level—offering the junior and senior level—and some graduate classes.”

Lott had pursued the University of South Alabama in 2010 to replace the University of Southern Mississippi, which had withdrawn its classes from the campus in Gautier. The deal collapsed under opposition primarily from USM supporters.

The building, which had been used by USM, is now being used for non-credit classes and workforce training, Graham said.

Graham doesn’t envision that MGCCC will plan a major building effort in the next 10 years in its Strategic Plan 2020.

“In my opinion, due to the economy, the next 10-year focus won’t be on facilities—not the construction of new facilities,” she said. “Our focus will be more on the renovation and retrofitting of existing facilities to meet the current demands.”

New buildings will be needed, “but not at the rate that we built after Katrina,” Graham said.

A primary focus of the college will be on instructional excellence and professional development to keep up with technology changes.  

“We have a lot of students involved in distance education. The market that we serve is changing,” she said.

While the majority of MGCCC’s enrollment remains traditional students, “more and more students are going for that online environment,” Graham said.

As a reflection of that change, Graham, who is an iPad user, said the college is developing its own application for smart phones.

The college has raised its tuition for the past two years, but at $1,150 for a full-time student with 12 hours, she estimates it remains about half the cost of four-year colleges.

The college conferred a record 2,288 degrees this year, she said.

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