JACKSON--Mississippi's two largest universities have joined forces to create an innovative program designed to attract the state's best and brightest students into the field of education through a private gift totaling more than $12.9 million.
The Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, or MET, is a joint effort by the School of Education at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and the College of Education at Mississippi State University (MSU) and is funded by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson.
Designed to be the equivalent of an honors college for education majors, the program seeks to increase interest in middle and high school teaching as a career for top incoming freshmen and community college transfer students. The initial goal will be to attract high ability students who want to become mathematics and English teachers and to help meet the needs of new Common Core standards introduced in Mississippi last fall.
"For years, our foundation has been focused on education as the best pathway to economic prosperity for Mississippi," said foundation chairman Bob Hearin. "We believe this program, which is focused on attracting the best and brightest to the profession of teaching, will help fulfill that idea. It is appealing to our board that the program is a joint effort between two of Mississippi's leading universities."
Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones joined each other at a news conference podium in Jackson Tuesday to underline the importance of everyone in the state working together to address the state's educational needs.
Jones and Keenum said their universities have accepted responsibility for producing the very best teachers and will use the grant to attract the best and brightest to the profession and increase the prestige of teaching as a career choice. "This joint effort by our two universities should send a strong signal about the importance of this issue and our commitment to addressing it," the university leaders said.
Financial and professional incentives for students are significant, according to MSU Dean Dr. Richard Blackbourn and UM Dean Dr. David Rock. Accepted education students will receive full scholarships and room and board for up to four years. The program also provides money for study abroad or off-campus learning activities such as visiting high-performing schools around the nation or abroad.
"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," said Dr. Rock. Added Dr. Blackbourn,"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 deans said that to gain admission to the MET program students must possess grades and test scores that are comparable to admission requirements for both MSU and Ole Miss' honors colleges. An interview process will help identify students with a passion and dedication for improving public education in the state, they added.
Once launched, both universities hope to recruit 20 students at each campus per year. Over a five-year period, the plan is to produce up to 160 new teachers. All graduates make a five-year commitment to teach in Mississippi after graduation.
During their course of study, students will gain exposure to faculty and fellow MET students at Ole Miss and MSU during cross campus visits each semester and weeklong summer residencies, the deans said. In addition, during their senior year MET students will have the opportunity to attend a national or regional professional conference relevant to their teaching discipline.
Deans Rock and Blackbourn said the program will require new faculty and support staff at both universities. MSU and Ole Miss will hire program coordinators and new professors in math and English education to design and implement new coursework and recruit applicants from around the state.
METs first class will begin at the Oxford and Starkville campuses in fall 2013.