By Mark E. Keenum, President, Mississippi State University
The president of the state of Mississippi sets records after a Mississippi Today article that “significantly characterized” his university stance on financial aid programs.
As a longtime advocate for increasing access to higher education for all Mississippians, I am delighted to see Mississippi today the editorial team turns its attention to our state’s current financial aid programs. However, it was disappointing that their main focus of a recent article was on the comments I made during a December. Post-Secondary Education Council 2020 meeting that have been taken out of context.
With an attention-grabbing headline: “Got a 17 on your ACT? Mark Keenum doesn’t want you in Mississippi State” – the article significantly wrongly characterized Mississippi State University’s long record as an open enrollment public research university. and our documented efforts to advance access for needy and disadvantaged students to MSU, as well as my personal commitment to these students.
I certainly want every qualified and motivated student who wants to attend MSU to have this opportunity – and once admitted, our university is committed to providing the best student success assistance we can provide. This is also the commitment of our faculty, staff, students and alumni – and has been for decades.
As president of the MSU, I have worked tirelessly to provide opportunities, scholarships, educational advice and support, student success intervention, and inspiration to students who encounter obstacles in their academic path. Seven consecutive years of enrollment growth – bucking the trend. with national trends – suggest that engagement resonates with our students and their families.
Many of our peer full research universities are selective enrollment universities where many prospective students are never considered for enrollment. MSU has a long and commendable experience in providing educational opportunities to first generation college students and those with financial barriers to attendance.
I am particularly proud of MSU’s Promise program. Funding from the Promise program supports students from families with limited resources by helping them meet the costs of tuition and fees after applying for financial aid. Supported by annual donations and grants established to fund awards in perpetuity, the Promise initiative accepts donations of any amount that can help make education possible for many more students.
Similarly, MSU’s Thrive program was created to assist students who previously were or are currently part of the foster care system, an emancipated minor, homeless, with both parents dead, or any combination of these problems. The program provides comprehensive support and resources that foster academic success, as well as professional and life skills.
I was present at the Dec. 2020 Mississippi post-secondary council meeting as a board member and took part in a serious discussion about the future of these vital programs. The Postsecondary Board is a nine-member board with authority over all state student financial aid programs, including undergraduate and graduate student scholarships and forgivable loan programs. Public, private, community and four-year college students can receive funding through these programs.
The council has representatives from state public universities, community state colleges, private state colleges, appointed by the governor and the lieutenant colonel. Governor and two advisory members from both houses of the Mississippi legislature. We are charged with managing the vital resources of taxpayers who support Mississippi students in achieving their educational goals.
The problems we examined were daunting and important. For decades, financial aid to Mississippi students has been structured across three programs. Although these programs have provided vital support to students, the demand for funding from eligible students has grown significantly, outstripping the funding allocated. Indeed, the legislator is often required to provide an additional annual deficit allocation to support these aid programs. In short, the status quo is fiscally unsustainable.
In reaction to these fiscal realities, the post-secondary council was tasked by the legislative leadership to streamline a streamlined state financial aid program that recognizes budget constraints and controls program growth by using our limited resources to reward both needs and academic achievements.
The Mississippi One Grant recommendation to the legislature, the product of the dedicated work of the post-secondary council’s financial aid advisory board, strikes a balance between necessity and merit when considering how we care for our state’s youth. The post-secondary council’s vote to adopt the recommendation was unanimous. I supported the Mississippi One Grant recommendation to the legislature with my fellow council members as a first step in starting dialogue for a meaningful reform of our state’s financial aid system.
Under the Mississippi One Grant concept, financial projections show that:
- Another 1,767 Mississippians would have qualified for the scholarships.
- 1,369 more African American students would have qualified for the scholarships.
- More middle-income Mississippi of all races would receive assistance.
In the poorest state of the Union, it is essential to address need as an impediment to university access. But at least as important is the wisdom to apply both merit and need as criteria for evaluating student financial aid decisions when resources are limited. Doing otherwise sends our best and brightest minds across state lines from which their return is uncertain.
Financial aid to students must also be considered in the context of federally funded programs and privately funded resources. Our challenge in Mississippi is to help students who want higher education find the best path to that goal, but considering obstacles to student success is something that is most effective early in the process.
While I support the Mississippi One Grant recommendation for student financial aid, along with all of my fellow post-secondary council members, I hope that in making their decisions, lawmakers will consider both the need and merit of assistance as they go. the reform process is moving forward. I also believe that all students deserve to be guided on the best path to student success and a positive outcome in their higher education experience – this is certainly what we strive to do at Mississippi State University.
Written by dr. Mark E. Keenum and published on msstate.edu. Who holds a PhD in Agricultural Economics and is the 19th president of Mississippi State University. Prior to leading the MSU, Keenum was the nation’s third highest-ranking agricultural official as a former U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Agricultural Services and Foreign Agriculture and is a former Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss.