By STEVEN NALLEY
Mississippi State University and University of Mississippi leaders announced plans Tuesday at the Institutions of Higher Learning Universities Center in Jackson to use a $12.9 million private gift to launch the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching (MET) program, aimed at attracting top students to middle and high school teaching careers.
Sid Salter, MSU University Relations Director, said while MSU and Ole Miss are known as rivals in SEC athletics, it’s not unheard of for them to collaborate in academic capacities. No such collaboration has reached the scale of the MET, he said, and the fact that both schools shared in Tuesday’s press conference illustrates this.
“There’s not another program like this in the country,” Salter said. “This is light years beyond any collaborative effort the institutions have ever participated in.”
A press release from the two universities says MET will function like an honors college for education majors, and all of its graduates will make a five-year commitment to teach in Mississippi after graduation. It says both universities hope to recruit 20 students at each campus per year and produce up to 160 new teachers over a five-year period. The first MET classes will begin in fall 2013.
Salter said both MSU President Mark Keenum and Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones described MET as a way to boost the teaching profession’s reputation and perception among top high school students weighing their college options. The MET scholarship will be among the best scholarships available at either institution, he said.
“Obviously, there are students that look at making a choice between one of these two flagship universities. Now, for those who are attracted to the teaching profession, the benefits of the (MET) program (are available) at both of the largest schools in the state,” Salter said. “Some of these benefits had only been available to those who chose other pursuits. Now that it’s available to those who might choose a career in education, (Keenum and Jones) believe the program will have the effect of attracting students toward that choice. They said this is a first step, but it’s a very important step.”
The release says this program brings together the MSU College of Education and the Ole Miss School of Education, with funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson. Foundation Chairman Bob Hearin said in the release that the idea of bringing two leading Mississippi universities together appealed to the foundation’s board.
“For years, our foundation has been focused on education as the best pathway to economic prosperity for Mississippi,” Hearin said in the release. “We believe this program, which is focused on attracting the best and brightest to the profession of teaching, will help fulfill that idea.”
Deans for both universities’ education departments, MSU dean Richard Blackbourn and Ole Miss dean David Rock, said in the release that admission requirements for MET are comparable to the schools’ honors college admission requirements. Those accepted will receive full scholarships and room and board for up to four years, the deans said in the release, as well as money for study abroad or other off-campus studies, such as visiting high-performing schools in other states or countries.
Rock said in the release, “Our goal is to create a program that is so strong in financial support and honors-level instruction that the very best students will want to compete for this incredible opportunity.”
Blackbourn said in the release, “We intend to change the perception of teaching as a profession, and we know we can be more successful by combining the expertise available at both universities.”
The release said the initial goal for MET is to attract top prospective math and English teachers and help state schools meet new Common Core standards Mississippi lawmakers established in fall 2012. It says the program also focuses on boosting interest in middle and high school teaching in particular, and Salter said the emphasis on math and English is aimed at helping those students fare better on state tests.
“The additional thing Dr. Keenum said would be a criterion (for enrollment) in this MET program is the zeal a student has for teaching,” Salter said. “They (will) look in the interview process to identify students that (have) a real passion for teaching.”