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IHL wants a new president in Delta State

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The Board of Trustees of Higher Education Institutions wants to hire a new president at Delta State University by summer 2023 or earlier.

Interim President EE Butch Caston, whom IHL appointed last July, said he would serve for a year. The 22-page profile recently finalized by Academic Search, the headhunting firm that IHL contracted to do the research, gives some clues about the type of president the directors want to take on after Caston.

As regional college in Cleveland, a small town in the Mississippi Delta, grapples with plummeting enrollment and fragile finances — widespread problems in higher education — potential applicants don’t need experience work in university administration, as long as they are successful in their field and have a “thorough knowledge” of higher education, according to the profile.

IHL prefers applicants with a terminal degree, but the profile does not say it is required.

The profile makes it clear that despite the challenges facing Delta State, IHL wants ambitious candidates who match the university’s vision of becoming “the best regional university in America, as it combines a heritage of academic strength with a strong commitment to serving people and communities, especially in the Mississippi Delta.

Delta State opened as a teachers’ college in 1924. The profile touts the university’s low student-teacher ratio; efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion such as the annual “Winning the Race” conference; and its estimated $175 million annual economic impact on the Mississippi Delta.

The next president is expected to increase enrollment, both graduate and undergraduate, and retention in all classes, according to the profile. This is a tall order as Delta State has been losing enrollment faster than any other public university in recent years. Enrollment has fallen by 29% since 2014, with only 2,556 students enrolled this year.

Another challenge IHL wants the next president to tackle is to grow the university’s annual fund and modest $30 million endowment by reaching out to alumni, community members and regional employers. State appropriations, once the school’s largest source of funding, have fallen in recent years.

Adjusted for inflation, Delta State receives less money from the state than it did in 2000. The university’s cash was less than half of the recommended 90-day reserve of IHL in 2020.

At Delta State, enrollment and financial challenges are reciprocal. Lack of funding over the past decade has led the administration to cut scholarships and increase tuition, which has made college less affordable for students.

In 2014, tuition at Delta State cost $6,012 per year before room and board. This year, it’s up to $8,435, or a quarter of Bolivar County’s median household income.

Most of the students receive Pell grants — federal financial aid for students from low-income families — and come from Mississippi. Although the university has long served, and continues to serve, one of the highest percentages of black students of any public university in the state, its demographics do not match those of the Delta. In 2020, 33% of students in Delta State were black and 55% were white, according to federal data – a near reversal of the demographics of Bolivar County, which is 65% black and 33% white.

IHL wants the next president to “demonstrate a lived commitment” to diversity, equity and inclusion and to work well with faculty and staff by adhering to the “principles of shared governance.”

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Academic Search will accept confidential applications until the position is filled, but prefers that applicants submit them by January 31. Presidential research is secret in Mississippi.

Applicants must submit a cover letter, a “written philosophy” of diversity, equity and inclusion, a resume and five professional references.

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