September 25, 2002
Carol J. Schlueter
Walk into the Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, Miss., and there it is, next door to J.C. Penney--a unique storefront with columns and stylized archways that brings to mind a campus two hours away on St. Charles Avenue. "It's a way to bring part of Tulane here . . . an icon that says, 'This is Tulane,'" describes the architect who designed Tulane's new University College campus classrooms and offices in Biloxi.
The fall semester is one week old and the new Biloxi campus is busy with its first classes. Students are taking some 40 classes in everything from media arts to information technology to marketing. "I feel good about it," Univeristy College dean Rick Marksbury says of the 220 enrollments in Biloxi.
The official opening came Aug. 23. Tulane President Scott Cowen celebrated the grand opening along with Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, officials from Tulane's uptown campus, University College staff and, importantly, Tulane students-to-be from the Biloxi area. The sparkling new location includes two high-tech computer classrooms and six classrooms, along with offices for staff and faculty.
Even the interior reception area includes floor-to-ceiling white columns that add a flavor of New Orleans. "No doubt about it, it gives us a unique signature," said Lou Campomenosi, assistant dean of University College and head of the Biloxi campus. "We've had a very warm reception here, due in part to Tulane's well-deserved reputation."
University College-Biloxi "hit a home run" with its media arts classes, Marksbury said, filling all the offerings. "Now we have to analyze which classes did best and in spring scheduling, do a better job at adapting" to what the local market wants.
As Campomenosi adds, "We have to be flexible enough to adapt to the local situation. And we are very adaptable." "Adaptable" and "entrepreneurial" both describe University College under Marksbury's hand. Five years ago he opened the Elmwood campus in Jefferson Parish and its enrollment jumped from 230 the first semester to 1,000 the following term. Three years ago Marksbury had similar success with a downtown campus at New Orleans Centre.
"We've learned a lot over the years and we improved it each time," he said.
As of Sept. 5, University College had enrolled 2,243 students. Establishing Tulane's first undergraduate education foray outside Louisiana had its own set of hurdles: Gaining accreditation from the state of Mississippi. Getting site approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Going through delays in lease-signing and construction at Edgewater Mall.
And, come January, Marksbury will be trying to get the Mississippi legislature to add Tulane to the eligibility list so that Tulane students there can receive the state financial aid given to qualifying high school graduates, a benefit similar to Louisiana's TOPS program. University College officials also have work ahead to spread the word about the educational opportunities available at this facility, talking with human resources directors of area businesses, military offices, hospitals and casinos, as well as visiting surrounding high schools, whose senior students could take advantage of Tulane courses.
"In the longer term," Marksbury said, "we will be trying to figure out what educational programs the Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos need. It's too big a market to ignore."
Some 12,000 people are employed by those casinos and could use University College courses for self-improvement. Marksbury also sees potential and interest in the Biloxi area for master's level business programs, continuing legal education and other graduate education. Some 450,000 working adults live within 45 minutes of the Biloxi campus and they have few local options for higher education. But on the day of the ribbon-cutting for the new campus, all the work turned into celebration.
Cowen was beaming at the ceremony. "This is an unbelievably exciting event in the history of Tulane University, that we planned the opening of a campus outside Louisiana." Tulane wanted the new campus in an area of significant growth, "a place where we could easily form a partnership. We have found it in Biloxi and we are delighted to be here," Cowen said.
That partnership will work "for the betterment of our communities," he added. "We already have hundreds of alumni on the Gulf Coast. This facility will represent a great deal of pride for them. We hope to double and triple our ranks of alumni in Mississippi."
Carol J. Schlueter may be reached at email@example.com.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org