USM enrollment surges; more opportunity awaits


Officials at the University of Southern Mississippi have plenty to be proud of this week. For the first time in university history, more than 2,000 first-time, full-time freshmen have enrolled at USM. That’s an 11 percent increase from last fall and a whopping 35 percent increase from the prior year.

The record number of freshmen contributed to a total enrollment increase of 1.8 percent compared to last fall and the most in the entire state.

Things are looking bright on campus and now is the time university officials should look outward for additional opportunities to increase enrollment.

One such opportunity is the state’s Prison-to-College Pipeline Program, an excellent example of the creativity that will be required if the state is ever to dig out from its abundance of people behind bars.

A press release from Mississippi College, one of the schools participating in the Department of Corrections effort, quotes a communications professor as saying that the imprisoned people she has taught are some of the hardest-working students she’s met in her education career.

The program is in its fourth year. Along with MC, MDOC’s education partners are Ole Miss, Millsaps, Jackson State and the Mississippi Humanities Council.

Southern Miss should be the next university to join the program.

It began at the state penitentiary at Parchman and expanded to the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility near Pearl in 2016.

Enrollment is a small percentage of prisoners at each location. The MC press release said 17 men at Parchman graduated from the first class in 2014. At Pearl, 18 women participated when the program began there.

The main reason for this may be the relatively low level of education of many prisoners. People who take the college courses must have a high school diploma or a GED, and a lot of the people in state prisons lack either one.

The programs to reach enough of the impoverished and under-educated men and women who wind up in prison have not yet been invented. This may be something that MDOC or other government agencies cannot do alone.

It will require a lot of assistance from the private sector to steer inmates away from the problems that got them in such trouble.

And, as other programs like drug courts have shown, it will require the willpower of convicts who want to improve their lives.

Still, there’s a Chinese saying: “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” The Prison-to-College Pipeline Program is a very commendable first step.