Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Journey for Jackson State: A Source of Pride for Its Community, This HBCU Has Emerged as a Research and Public Service Leader in Mississippi

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Journey for Jackson State: A Source of Pride for Its Community, This HBCU Has Emerged as a Research and Public Service Leader in Mississippi

Article excerpt

In recent years, construction cranes have loomed over the bustling campus of Jackson State University. The historically Black school of more than 8,000 students is undergoing a building boom, evident by recently constructed buildings that have blended with historic structures. Located at the southern end of the city, the Jackson State campus stands out as one of the few vibrant areas in this economically struggling section of Mississippi's majority-Black capital city.

"I feel like now we are as close to being a major university as we've ever been," says Dr. Hillard Lackey, Jackson State's national alumni president and an adjunct professor of history and geography. "We've come from being a college in the corner to being an active participant in world affairs."

As a youngster growing up in Jackson, Andrell Harris believed fervently that he would leave his hometown to attend college. Now a junior at Jackson State, he says he grew interested in the school as a teenager after he encountered people affiliated with its outreach programs. It also helped that his mother is a Jackson State alumna, and that the finance major had started a local vending machine business while he was in high school.

"I realized that Jackson State had a lot to offer me. And now I can't imagine having gone anywhere else for college," he says.

A sense of pride is palpable among those who count themselves in the Jackson State community. In addition to taking pride in new buildings, such as the $22 million engineering building and the $24.5 million student union that are currently under construction, the school has gained a national reputation for scientific research in chemistry and environmental science. It has also become a national leader in community-based health disparities research with regard to HW/AIDs and heart disease.

Founded in 1877, Jackson State has emerged as one of Mississippi's leading research institutions as well as one of the top HBCUs in the country for research. Its $56 million sponsored research portfolio in the 2005-2006 academic year put the school second only to Howard University among HBCUs. In 2002, Jackson State was named a "comprehensive university" by state higher education officials, putting it on par with the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi. And last year, the school earned the Carnegie classification ranking of a "high research activity" university. Of the state's eight public universities, three are historically Black.

"I'm very impressed with the progress at [Jackson State] over the past five years. When you go on the campus, you can see the changes to the physical plant. And the overall quality in the academic programs has been consistent," says Dr. James T. Minor, an assistant professor of higher education at Michigan State University and a graduate of Jackson State.

An expert on HBCUs, Minor says his alma mater has grown into a comprehensive university despite being underfunded by both state and federal governments. For decades, Mississippi has operated under federal scrutiny as it sought to resolve the landmark higher education desegregation case. In 1975, Mississippi resident Jake Ayers Sr., and several other Black plaintiffs, including U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., charged in a lawsuit, Ayers v. State of Mississipi, that the state had long neglected its historically Black schools. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 1992. Reaching a final agreement in 2004, Mississippi will fund improvements at the three historically Black universities to fulfill a $503 million settlement.

Although some of the settlement funding has benefited Jackson State, Minor says much of the school's recent progress is the result of sound planning and solid performance. "In many ways, it's due to good leadership," he says.

BUILT ON A SOLID FOUNDATION

Jackson State President Ronald Mason Jr. …

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