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Educating the Delta

By September 24, 2009General

“Let’s Talk” panel participants (l to r) Mississippi Delta Community College President  Dr. Larry Bailey, Mississippi Valley State University Vice President for Research, Planning, Community and Economic Development Dr. Moses Newsome, Sen. Willie Simmons (D -District 13) host and moderator, and Delta State University President Dr. John  M. Hilpert



Delta State University President Dr. John M. Hilpert, Mississippi Valley State University Vice President for Research, Planning, Community and Economic Development Dr. Moses Newsome, and Mississippi Delta Community College President Dr. Larry Bailey, mirrored the same message when speaking to a group of about 40 concerned citizens during the “Let’s Talk” panel discussion at The Senator’s Place Restaurant in Cleveland.  The message was that post-secondary education is of vital importance to the Delta – even more so in these serious economic times.
In his opening remarks, Hilpert proclaimed that Delta State is even more focused on remaining easily accessible to students despite the hurdle of another recently-announced five percent budget cut. “We are working on ways to tackle this cut without creating an imposition on students and their families,” he said. “There are still decisions and negotiations that must be made, but we have a plan of action in place.”
Hilpert explained some of the efforts Delta State has made to offset the recent cuts. “We have made a concerted effort throughout the university to conserve on energy costs and we saved over $700,000 compared to last year,” he said. “Such savings make a tremendous difference to us when you consider the amount of our operating budget.”
During his remarks, Hilpert remained focused on the importance of post-secondary education to the Delta. “We must remain accessible to students,” he explained. “When you consider there are more than 20,000 students taking post-secondary work in the Delta region, it becomes even more imperative that we increase our efforts in providing them with top-quality educational opportunities.”
Hilpert also acknowledged Delta State’s contribution to improving secondary education in the Delta by being selected as a host site for Teach For America Summer Charter Institute. Teach For America is the national corps of outstanding recent college graduates and professionals of all academic majors and career interests who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools and become leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity.
Delta State is one of only eight host sites nationwide and is the only site located in a rural region. Delta State will host over 800 participants for eight weeks of intensive teacher training in the summer of 2010.
Dr. Newsome agreed with Hilpert and stated that Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) is facing similar budget issues. “This is a time when we are looking at critical issues on our campus and throughout the state,” said Newsome. “What Delta State has done is certainly a model for all of us.”
Newsome explained that MVSU has undertaken a five-year “Renaissance Plan” designed to increase the quality of education and service provided by MVSU. He also discussed a number of initiatives the university has begun in order to increase enrollment. “We will reach out to the community to help us improve the quality of life for our students,” he said.
Mississippi Delta Community College (MDCC) President Dr. Larry Bailey echoed the sentiments of his counterparts stating, “Higher education is the future of the Delta!”
When discussing recent budget cuts, Bailey responded, “I’m going to build on the faith that our legislators will stand up for education and the Delta.”  He also added, “It’s good to be in a forum like this with Dr. Hilpert because he recognizes and understands the big picture.”
Bailey outlined a number of programs MDCC has begun in order to cut costs including moving to a four-day week of operation to save on energy expenses. “Many people questioned the move in the beginning, but the move has been very successful in helping us lower expenses.”
Bailey also noted the cooperative effort between MDCC and Delta universities. “In most areas of the country you can’t find three presidents who would get together for an event like this and work together in partnership as we do.”  He also said, “MDCC produces quality, university-ready students. Every MDCC graduate is ready to be successful at the university level.”
Following a brief question and answer period Senator Willie Simmons, host and mediator of the event, adjourned the program while encouraging participants to get involved. “We have to help.  We have to do our part,” said Simmons.  “Become active. Make calls to your legislators and encourage them to be diligent in searching for revenue and new sources of funding.  We are all responsible in keeping quality education accessible in the Delta.”