Business And Education Mix

The University of Southern Mississippi has created a new degree program and research center it hopes will provide guidance to both students and the financial services industry. The Center for Financial Services, which opened last week on the Hattiesburg campus, is a partnership between USM and several businesses that offer financial services.

To date, some 10 companies have committed $250,000 to the center, which in turn will provide economic forecasts, academic research and other support to the industry. At the same time, students at USM now will be able to earn a bachelor's degree in financial services. The program will include classes in real estate, insurance, salesmanship and estate planning besides the traditional finance and economics courses. ``As baby boomers age, there's a tremendous demand for teaching consumers the rules of money,'' said David Landrum, who runs the Primerica Financial Services office in Jackson. ``In our educational system, we teach students how to make money but not what to do with it once they get it.'' Landrum said he expects the demand for financial services professionals to rise dramatically in the next 20 years. That's why he and his company have given a $50,000 grant to support the center.

Michael Melton, the center's director and an assistant professor of finance, said the new degree program is designed to prepare students to earn a Certificate in Financial Planning offered by the Certified Financial Planning Board of Standards. The curriculum will entail more than just classroom lectures. Students will take a field trip to the Chicago Board of Trade, and trips to the Federal Reserve banks in Atlanta and St. Louis are being worked out. The center also will have a lecture series featuring executives in the financial services industry and provide in-house career planning and job placement assistance. Melton said the first scholarships for the new program will be available next year. He said other universities offer similar degrees, including Delta State and Mississippi State, but the center is an enhancement that not everyone can offer. ``This is a way for us to bridge the gap between academia and the business community,'' Melton said.

Said USM President Aubrey Lucas, ``It's taken a great deal of energy and determination on the part of the College of Business Administration not only to gather financial support but to bring about a new curriculum through the center.''