Thursday, December 31, 2009

Proposed Mississippi University Mergers

Several mergers of state universities have been proposed by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour in what he suggests could be a cost-savings measure to the tune of about $35 million. Included in these mergers would be the combination of Alcorn State University (Lorman) and Mississippi Valley State University (Itta Bena) into Jackson State University. All three institutions are historically black. Mississippi University for Women would also be merged with Mississippi State University. The proposed mergers have drawn a significant amount of debate and criticism from alumni and community members as well as media exposure. Supporters of the historically black institutions (HBCUs) have been extremely vocal in that the universities should not be merged or closed. Supporters of the Mississippi University for Women have been similarly vocal. The plan seems to lack the necessary support in the legislature.

Mergers proposed from outside of the institutions always have the hardest time being accepted. It tends to be viewed by the institutions that the merger is being done “to” them and not “by” them. Institutional buy-in is essential to positively effect a merger, and a key means of achieving this buy-in is by having the impetus to merge coming from the institutions. Factor in the notion that these mergers would be controversial due to the institutions’ mission of supporting underserved populations and this proposal likely will not have the political will to get off the ground.

The notion of whether or not HBCUs are still needed today in American higher education is an entirely separate debate. Governor Barbour is suggesting these mergers due to a desire for cost savings – a reason that should not be behind any merger, at least not as a primary consideration. The higher education merger literature suggests that cost savings results from mergers are inconclusive to limited at best, and that institutions that come together out of positions of strength are more likely to achieve lasting, positive results.

Recent articles on the subject are listed below.

Miss. HBCU merger faces hurdle (Clarionledger.com)

Opposition to university mergers strong (Jackson Free Press)

Universities fear effects of merger talk (Clarionledger.com)

Plan to merge black colleges meets with ire (USA Today)

ASU alumni: Merger talk hurts hiring (Clarionledger.com)

Amid unity message, W supporters oppose merger (The Dispatch)

Rep. Flaggs says build up universities (The Vicksburg Post)

MSU's Keenum downplays merger talk (Desototimestribune.com)