Freshmen could be taking classes at USM's Long Beach campus as soon as May.
After years of legal maneuvering, the State Supreme Court ruled Thursday that USM has the right to expand to a four-year campus.
Mississippi's Community College system sued to block USM's expansion, saying adding freshmen and sophomore classes at the Long Beach campus would hurt enrollment at the junior colleges. But the Supreme Court disagreed.
In a 7-1 ruling, the justices opened the doors to freshmen at USM Gulf Coast.
"I think what you'll find if you walk around campus, is there are a lot of people pleased over this decision," Dr. Jim Williams said. "We think this ruling is positive, and we feel this now clears the way for the plan which IHL approved in 1999."
Williams says the campus plans to admit 60 to 70 Freshmen in the first year, and cap the number at 750 students in the fifth year.
Junior colleges had argued they had the power to block the four-year college plan. But the Supreme Court ruled the junior college board can't interfere in the College Board's authority to control the state's universities.
Supporters of the USM expansion say they hope the ruling puts an end to the legal wrangling between the two college systems.
"We're very excited about this," said Gene Warr with Coast 21. "It's wonderful, I'm just hopeful that the community college leaders will see fit to lay down their efforts on preventing this and work with us on a positive basis that we can have this educational opportunity for everyone."
"We think this will perhaps end the resistance to this kind of expansion, but one never knows what might come next," Dr. Williams said.
If all goes as planned, the first group of Freshmen could set foot on the Long Beach campus as early as this summer. USM will now begin the admissions process for freshmen applicants.
The state legislature has already set aside $250,000 for the first phase of the expansion. However, because of budget cuts this year, that amount is now $236,000. The university will use that money to hire up to five faculty members, additional staff, pay for library resources and marketing and recruitment.