November 15, 2001
Rick Marksbury isn’t overly concerned by the objections of University of Southern Mississippi’s administrators to Tulane’s plans to open a University College branch on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They’re not the ones who are going to be enrolling in classes.
“I’d rather have the strong support of the local community, the political community and the economic-development community and not worry about the concerns of Gulf Coast Community College and Southern Mississippi than vice versa,” says Marksbury, dean of University College. “In terms of everyday people in the coastal community, the response has been nothing but positive.”
Next fall, University College plans to begin offering courses at a site in Biloxi, marking the first time the college has crossed state lines to deliver its programs. The University of Southern Mississippi is currently facing a legal challenge from the state’s junior college system over its plan to turn its Long Beach, Miss., campus into a four-year program.
The timing might suggest that Tulane is moving into Mississippi to take advantage of the situation, but Marksbury says nothing could be further from the truth.
“I originally mentioned this when I was associate dean here in 1983 or ’84,” Marksbury says. “The reason I wanted to go then is the same reason now: In terms of educational opportunities for people on the Gulf Coast, there aren’t very many.”
Biloxi’s Edgewater Mall is one of the sites being considered for the latest University College branch. Marksbury plans to initially offer between 25 and 30 courses leading to majors in social sciences, media arts and organizational information technology. Marksbury expects to hire a staff of four for the branch. Classes will be taught by both Tulane faculty and adjunct faculty from the Gulf Coast.
While Southern Mississippi’s president expressed concerns over Tulane’s encroachment onto what he sees as USM turf, Marksbury says it was the encouragement of Gulf Coast political and economic- development leaders that led him to look seriously into opening a branch.
“When they try to attract new businesses, managers and executives to move to the area, it benefits them to say one of the educational options for your family is Tulane University,” Marksbury says. “The Tulane name—a top 50 school—is attractive.”
University College has already been chartered by the state of Mississippi, enabling it to begin offering courses, but Tulane cannot grant degrees until it receives accreditation. Marksbury, however, isn’t worried about that hurdle.
“Given the reception we’re getting in the community and given that we have the same accreditation as Ole Miss, Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State, it really shouldn’t be an issue.”
In addition to offering working Gulf Coast residents the opportunity to earn a degree in an average of six years, Marksbury hopes to use the branch to offer custom-designed programs for the area’s casino industry, which employs approximately 12,000 people. Mississippi law prohibits the state’s public universities from doing business with casinos, Markbury says, which creates a tremendous need for university-based employee training programs.
“Casinos need to train their managers and professional staff and right now they have to get all of their training out of state,” Marksbury says. “They need training in areas of security, information systems, system and network design, media production and accounting procedures.”
Once a lease is finalized, University College can begin to work on staffing the office and recruiting students, but Marksbury says those efforts shouldn’t pose a problem. “We have people who drive over here from Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Long Beach to take our classes,” he notes. “And since this announcement has come up, I’ve been swamped with people who want to work for us.”
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