One of the students in class Wednesday was the kind of non-traditional student USM Gulf Coast was after. Jack Cordray is 44, a restaurateur, and after May 14, a college graduate who wants to become a teacher.
"I felt I could make an impact," Cordray said, describing his decision to leave the restaurant business and become a teacher. "I wanted to make an impact."
At a meeting of Harrison County business leaders, Dr. Shelby Thames said there were plenty of other people just like Cordray who belonged at USM Gulf Coast.
"We must go out into the marketplace, we must go to the businesses and industries and find these individuals who need additional training, who need additional education, and encourage them to get that education," the USM president said.
In 1995, USM Gulf Coast had 1,500 students. Since then, USM has expanded its gulf coast programs. And it started offering four year degrees.
Today, roughly 2,200 coast students take USM classes. Dr. Thames believes that number should be the tip of the iceberg. So he challenged gulf coast administrators to nearly triple enrollment in two years.
According to Dr. Thames, that's the only way USM Gulf Coast could successfully reach its full potential.
"I believe there is a need for 6,000," he said. "Whether we meet that goal or not, it depends upon how we all work together."
Jack Cordray thinks the goal is attainable, because more people just like him are looking for new career paths. But he said USM must make some adjustments if it's going to teach more students.
"They need more facilities. They need more teachers. It's going to be a tough job. But it can be done," said Cordray.
One point Dr. Thames emphasized was that more students enrolled in college courses could lure more industries to South Mississippi. The USM president said an educated workforce is essential if the area is going to attract higher paying jobs.