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Can Ole Miss Grow Too Big?

Enrollment at the University of Mississippi has increased by 30 percent since former Chancellor Dan Jones took over in 2009. The new chancellor, Dr. Jeffrey Vitter, now has to decide how much more growth is right for Ole Miss, and he will need the help of his administrative team to do it.

“We get over 18,000 applications to come here each year. We add about 4,000 new students, and so there is an effort to try and select the most qualified students,” said Acting Provost Noel Wilkin.

Ole Miss senior Gabriella Gonzaba is excited about the growth, but says the university could get too big.

“I think it is just like you have to give and take. You know have to know where to draw the line and increase for more students,” she said.

Drawing that line is a tough job as the University of Mississippi student demand increases, but university officials have begun making progress. Though in-state students are accepted based on rules set by the Institutes of Higher Learning, the university has created tougher standards for those from outside Mississippi.

“Our out-of-state or non-residents requirements are different. We raised that threshold in each of the past several years as a way to manage growth,” said Assistant Director of Admissions Martin Fisher.

Students from other states must have a minimum ACT score of 22 or a minimum SAT score of 1020, not including the writing portion, and a minimum high school GPA of 2.75.

Despite efforts to make attending Ole Miss tougher, the dean of the School of Engineering says his program is facing challenges due to the rapid increase in students.  He says there is a need for more faculty and more classroom space, in particular.

“We cannot catch up right away, but we must have a plan. We must have a plan to catch up sometime in the future,” said Dean Alex Cheng.

These numbers were pulled from each university’s Princeton Review profile.
These numbers were pulled from each university’s Princeton Review profile.

Though the Chronicle of Higher Education indicates Ole Miss is No. 12 on the list of fastest-growing campuses, among schools in the Southeastern Conference, Ole Miss has one of the lowest enrollments.  For fall 2015, preliminary enrollment figures stand at 23,096, up 3.6 percent.  Only Mississippi State and Vanderbilt are SEC schools with lower enrollments.  Auburn, which ranks one spot higher than Ole Miss in terms of student numbers, has 27,287 students and grew 5 percent year-to-year.

With that kind of perspective, Wilkin says he wants to ensure the quality of the education remains high at Ole Miss, along with enrollment.

“I think that the university has an important mission; it is to educate Mississippi and to educate the people in our nation. We are attracting students to programs that no other university offers.”

During his first meeting with Ole Miss faculty, the incoming chancellor said he understands this long-time mission is important to the university and said he looks to forward to continuing growth on campus. Those statements suggest the university’s management challenges will continue growing along with the student population.

Story contributed by Ole Miss journalism students Morgan Burger and Amber Murphy.

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