College students want amenities as well as education - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Mississippi universities

College students want amenities as well as education

New residence halls.  Added online access.

Good scholarships.

Students aren't just looking to follow in a family member's

footsteps any longer.

They want amenities and options.

"Students today are very different from when their parents were

entering college," said Jeff Alford, an associate vice chancellor

at the University of Mississippi who has spent his 30-year academic

career working at universities in Florida, Indiana and Texas.

"They are much more consumer savvy," he said. "They have very

high expectations for things like their residence halls and campus

dining and what kinds of information they expect from the

institution."

In addition to providing students with a four-year degree or

more, schools also have increased their efforts to satisfy their

consumer side, often supplying new things.

"The new student, the consumer student, is not as patient as we

were," said Malvin Williams, interim president of Alcorn State

University who came to the school as a math teacher in 1966.

"They want to be able to use the Internet and do it now. They

don't want to wait in line. Colleges and universities have to adapt

to that. If they don't, they sort of get left behind."

Satisfying consumer students includes removing or enhancing

programs for a changing job market, new construction and keeping up

with options offered at other schools.

"Alcorn students want the same thing their friends have at

Harvard," Williams said. "If they are doing it at Harvard, (our

students) want to know why we're not doing it, and we have to adapt

as best as we can."

Programs are important, as are student IDs that double as debit

cards and computer access.

Students at Jackson State University now can access library

databases from computers anywhere, rather than just those on the

campus. Students at Mississippi Valley State University can pay $10

a night to stay in the residence halls between semesters.

And students lured in by the smell of new paint have plenty of

options.

In a few weeks, Alcorn State will open the $12.6 million Clinton

Bristow Jr. Dining Facility. Recently, the University of Southern

Mississippi opened a new group of residence halls, representing the

completion of an $18 million project.

Ole Miss is opening a renovated Farley Hall, which will house

the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics. The

renovation and expansion are the result of a $7.5 million project.

A biotechnology building under construction at Alcorn will allow

the school to add new labs, perform new research and offer a

master's degree in the field.

"When you develop new academic programs and you have facilities

coming on board, they are attractive to students," Williams said.

A residence hall at Mississippi State helped 18-year-old Madison

resident Barrie Rhemann become a Bulldog rather than an Ole Miss

Rebel.

"(The rooms) were a lot nicer than anywhere else I looked,"

said Rhemann, who lives in Griffis Hall, one of Mississippi State's

new halls. "They are just so new. They are just more modern rooms

and bigger."

Ole Miss won't begin construction on its residence halls until

later this fall or in the spring. The school hasn't built a

residence hall since the early 1970s.

Rhemann isn't unusual. Students may consider as many as three to

five universities and campuses with outdated facilities may get

looked past, said Joe Argon, editor of American School and

University magazine.

"When you go to a campus, the things that they see, the

landscaping, the buildings, and the environment that is projected

is a big student grabber," Argon said.

Across the country, college campuses are booming with

construction. In 2006, construction spending topped $36 billion at

the country's academic institutions, according to a report by the

magazine.

Since 1990, Mississippi's Legislature has approved more than $1

billion in bonds for construction projects.

Since 2003, Jackson State has opened two phases of one hall and

renovated another. In January, it opened Campbell Suites. Its

housing capacity has grown from about 2,500 to 2,600.

"It definitely affects recruiting and possibly retention,"

said Christopher Reed, JSU's assistant vice president for auxiliary

enterprises. "If you're a student ... and you love your

surroundings, that makes for a good living and learning

environment."

He said the school has seen an increased interest in student

housing.

"We anticipate the interest will go up," he said. "If we

build it, they will come."

Bricks and mortar aren't the only recruiting tools universities

are using.

Darya Shlapak is looking forward to eating in Alcorn's new

dining hall, but that's not what encouraged the now 25-year-old

graduate student from Russia to enroll at the Lorman school. It was

a scholarship program she heard about from another student.

"It's real difficult to get a job in Russia, even if you get a

decent education," said Shlapak, who earned an undergraduate

degree at Alcorn.

While demand may direct new features and construction, it's

still the faculty members who set the academic standards, Alford

said.

However the relationship is viewed, schools are busy seeking

more customers.

"Twenty years ago ... most universities, particularly state

universities, did not have marketing departments and marketing

campaigns and extensive communication programs," Alford said.

"Now, I would challenge you to find a university that doesn't have

a major marketing program and department responsible for that."

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,

http://www.clarionledger.com

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