Nostalgic! That probably best described my visit back to Jackson State. However, many things have changed since graduating from there seven years ago. Compared to about 5900 students then, the university now has more than 8,000 and is still growing. Aside from this, one of the most noticeable changes is the campus' appearance.
Expanded from 125 acres to more than 200, Jackson State now has three other campuses aside from its main. Designed to be more pedestrian friendly, there are a number of projects in the works for the university. Plus, some that have been completed. This includes some apartments on the west end of the campus. Plus, plans to tear down some of the dorms and construct apartments near the center of campus. Aside from this there are also plans to build a new College of Business and construct an official College of Engineering.
While university president Dr. Ronald Mason credits some of the development to the Ayers case, he says the case is also presenting some challenges.
"The difficulty with Ayers is that it approved about $30 million worth of programs to help make Jackson State what it wants it to be but it only gave us about $12 million to operate them," says Dr. Mason.
$12 million is a portion of what the university has received so far from the settlement. Once finalized JSU is set to receive the remainder of its almost $166 million share of the settlement.
Although grateful, school officials say given the goals outlined by the case for JSU, more money is still needed.
“While on one hand the expectations and possibilities have gone up, on the other hand the challenges have increased because the funding that we have gotten is not sufficient to reach the expectations," says Mason.
To help, Dr. Mason says the university is looking at funding alternatives such as grants, bonds and private donations. In fact, later this year the university will kick off the largest capitol campaign in its history to raise between $50 and $75 million. He says all money raised will go to support students and faculty.
"Last year we turned away about 400 students because we didn't have the funds to enable them to attend Jackson State. We're a research university and we pay our professors about $10 thousand less on average than the professors at Southern Mississippi. The legislature has to decide if they really want Jackson State to be what they say they want it to be. For the center of the state to be successful, the only university in the center of the state has to be successful," says Mason.