When Dr. Jerryl Briggs was named president of Mississippi Valley State University in 2017, he carried over the slogan adopted by his predecessor, but with an addendum.
To “One Goal. One Team. One Valley.” — six words designed to emphasize student success, a unified university and a partnership with the surrounding community — Briggs tacked on “In Motion.”
That means, Briggs told the Greenwood Rotary Club Tuesday, that although the historically black university has made progress in recent years in enrollment and financial stability, “we understand that we have to continue to be moving. We have to continue to grow and build our institution.”
Briggs, though, appeared to misspeak when he said that the university this year experienced an enrollment increase, though small, for the fifth straight year.
According to the records of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, the fall enrollment at MVSU, after three straight annual increases, fell by 70 students, or 3 percent, in 2017 and then again by 100 students, or 4 percent, in 2018.
Afterward, Briggs clarified his remarks to say he was referring to the preliminary figures released each fall by IHL, when compared to the final figures of the year before. Last September, for instance, IHL’s preliminary count for MVSU was 2,406, which would have been a gain of 21 students over the year before, but the 2018 enrollment figure was later revised downward to 2,285.
Briggs said that while the goal is to steadily increase the enrollment at the smallest of the state’s eight public universities, MVSU has to do so strategically so that a higher head count of freshmen ultimately results in a higher number of graduates.
“Would I rather have 1,000 new students next year and then in four years we’re only graduating 20 percent of them? Or would I rather have 500 students that we can really touch individually and in four years we’re graduating 80 percent-plus of them? I would rather have that.”
A lack of student housing has been a handicap to the school’s recruiting efforts. That crunch, though, should be somewhat alleviated next fall when two residence halls reopen that have been undergoing extensive renovations, Briggs said. That will add living space for at least an additional 200 students on campus.
“Our recruitment is even more expansive now because now we realize we can actually accommodate more students,” he said.
The majority of the university’s entering freshmen continue to come from nearby, he said. About half are from the Delta and 65 percent from Mississippi as a whole. “Most of our students are still considered first-generation college students,” he said.
Financially, Briggs said, the university has a low debt load and has been able to increase its cash reserves from $12 million in 2012 to $21 million this year. He said the improvement was the result of a frugal approach to spending.
“We don’t spend what we don’t have. ... We know how to stretch our resources,” Briggs said.
He emphasized the university, which is celebrating Founder’s Week this week, is one of the major economic engines in the area, with more than 500 employees and an operating budget that exceeds $40 million annually.
“Imagine if those resources were not here in our community,” he said. “What would we look like? What would our needs be? ... We’re happy that everyone recognizes the importance of who we are and how we move forward.”
•Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or email@example.com.