ITTA BENA, Miss. — “I think the future is bright here at Mississippi Valley State University. The university is financially sound and has the capacity to do some great things.”
That was the message of optimism echoed by Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Commissioner Dr. Alfred Rankins during his visit to Mississippi Valley State University Friday, Aug. 24, as part of his listening tour.
During the visit, Rankins met with various constituency groups, including President Dr. Jerryl Briggs, cabinet members and department chairs, faculty, staff, students and alumni to get their input on how they view MVSU and what the IHL can do to help.
The one-day visit included an open forum and community reception as well as intimate roundtable discussions.
“I can’t provide effective leadership if I don’t know what the issues are,” said Rankins. “That’s why I’m here—to listen and have dialogue with those out there in the trenches with our students every day.”
A major concern expressed by many was the major loss of support the University is anticipating with the ending of funding from the AYERS settlement in 2022.
Rankins said that he believes MVSU is well-positioned to absorb the deficit but shouldn’t depend on state appropriations. His suggestions included moving AYERS-supported salaries to other funding sources and growing revenue through tuition and fees.
“The University needs to be very strategic on trying to grow and grow in the right way,” Rankins said. “You can’t plan budgets based on hope…Valley needs to take its fate into its own hands and be ready.”
Rankins was appointed to his position as the top administrator of higher education in the state in March 2018 and began serving in the role July 1, making him the first African American commissioner.
Before his current role, Rankins served as the 19th president of Alcorn State University, the nation's oldest public land-grant HBCU.
Prior to that, he was the IHL’s deputy commissioner, which included a one-year stint as the acting president of MVSU.
In his new position, Rankins sees his toughest challenge as being able to get funding and support from the state to address the needs that MVSU and other state universities face.
“I need to show the legislature that they’re not just giving money to Mississippi Valley State—they’re investing in it, and they’re going to get a return on that investment.”
Rankins’ other goals include increasing educational attainment in the state.
During his MVSU visit, Rankins also dispelled the rumor of merging some state institutions, specifically HBCUs.
“Nobody is talking about mergers except people on campuses,” he commented.
Rankins believes that MVSU’s focus needs to be on recruiting new students and retaining them.
“I think the outlook for Valley looks good. With three dorms scheduled to eventually come back online, the university has the capacity to grow and do some things that other institutions can’t do,” he said.
“There are a lot of good things that are going on here at the Valley despite the challenges. It’s my goal to help Valley get to where it wants to be.”
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