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June 19, 2024

Stronger and More Resilient

By Dr. Dan Ennis, President, Delta State University

American colleges and universities are at a pivotal moment, facing declining enrollments, dwindling support, and shaken public confidence. As the leader of Delta State University, I have had the responsibility of studying these challenges closely. The lesson is clear: universities that adapt can thrive, while those that delay their response or apply only incremental solutions struggle to survive.

The landscape of American higher education is marked by institutions that didn’t adjust to evolving student needs and shifting enrollment patterns. In 2023 alone, 15 nonprofit four-year colleges in the United States closed, despite having excellent faculty, dedicated staff, and conscientious leaders. These colleges fought valiantly to stay open, but ultimately, they ran out of time. Their struggles remind us that we must act decisively to secure our future.

To ensure Delta State does not share this fate, we must embrace significant changes. These changes will position us to move beyond mere survival and into a phase of renewed growth and vitality. By consolidating struggling programs into fewer, better-resourced majors, we can ensure that Delta State continues to be a place where students achieve their career aspirations and personal goals. Delta State has the potential to continue being an extraordinary place to teach and learn, and we owe it to our students, alumni, community, and ourselves to make the hard decisions necessary for our collective welfare.

The impact of these solutions will vary across our community. Some will feel the effects more deeply, while others may barely notice the changes. Yet, regardless of our roles, we all share the responsibility to protect the integrity of this university. This is difficult, but essential work, and I am committed to undertaking it together with you.

Reflecting on a recent conversation with President Emeritus Kent Wyatt, I was reminded of the significant budget cuts he made during the economic downturn of the mid-1980s. He eliminated 53 positions and cut $2.5 million from the operating budget. Fast-forward five years and Delta State experienced record enrollments and was deemed the most fiscally sound university in Mississippi. This precedent offers hope and a blueprint for our own success.

As we face challenges, let us aim to make 2024 the year Delta State University not only overcame its difficulties but emerged stronger. When future generations celebrate the 200th anniversary of Delta State, I hope they will look back on this time as the turning point where we secured a brighter future for our university, our students, and our community.