LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - An agreement signed Monday could change the way many South Mississippi students get their four-year college degrees. Starting in January, students will have a unique opportunity to enroll at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and at USM at the same time.
"This is indeed an exciting day for the Gulf Coast," said USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett.
Excitement filled the conference room at USM Gulf Park as the presidents of Southern Miss and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College signed an unprecedented agreement. The Concurrent Enrollment Agreement will allow students to enroll at USM and Gulf Coast simultaneously.
"This is brand new. The Two-Plus-Two was a different model and a different initiative. But this will allow students to be enrolled in our institution and at MGCCC at the same time and take classes back and forth between the two. So it's a really exciting, innovative approach to what we're trying to accomplish in public education in Mississippi," said Bennett.
Seven academic programs are part of this partnership: Business, Marine Biology, Film Studies, Child and Family Studies, Psychology, Biological Sciences, and Paralegal Studies.
"We have nine current locations and there are several USM locations. Students will have an opportunity to take courses at any level, at any location. Think about it. What a great opportunity for access for our students on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We're excited about the partnership. We're excited about removing the barriers," said MGCCC President Dr. Mary Graham.
By streamlining services and curriculum, it should make it easier for students who want to complete their four-year degree.
"Logistically, USM has been a great partner. About 57-percent of our students have an interest in attending USM, so it's a natural fit for us and for them," said Graham. "They'll go right in and finish their four-year degree under one registration, one admission, one financial aid package."
The pilot program is set to start in January, and the entire program will be fully implemented in the fall of 2015. There are still some details to work out like tuition, course schedules, and registration.
"The big part of this initiative have been worked out and we're ready to rock and roll with that, and we're excited about it," said Bennett.
Bennett said the initiative will have a positive impact on the coast economy, lead to a stronger workforce, and help students get their degrees at home.
"It's what higher education is all about, partnerships, collaborations, completions, student success, being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," he said. "It really is a win-win for everybody involved."