‘A ticket from good to great’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The takeover will occur Thursday, June 1. And even though, in most situations, people wouldn’t celebrate giving up the power to do things on their own will, staff and students at Marion Military Institute were happy to finalize the plans to become a state institution.

Yesterday morning, MMI cadets and employees gathered with area leaders to watch history as Alabama Governor Bob Riley signed the bill to make the school part of the state education system.

“This is not just a great day for the City of Marion and for Alabama, this is a great day for America,” Riley said. “I always said I wanted to take the Alabama college system to another level and what blend could be better than Marion Military Institute and ACS (Alabama College System)? We are combining what I think will be the benchmark for other military institutes to follow.”

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Riley said the state will take MMI and make sure it is well funded by the state because the school’s best days are yet to come.

“What we have here is unique in the United States. It is the one of the oldest military institutions with a tradition that continues from 1842,” Riley said. “I am proud to be a part of this legacy. Now it’s up to each of us to make sure it’s enhanced.”

“This is our ticket from good to great. Now we have the resources to do all the things we couldn’t do before. Now we have more access,” MMI president James Benson said. “This move will double enrollment and create more jobs in the area. There are a lot of pluses to becoming a state institution.”

Marion mayor Tony Long said the change will not only be beneficial to the school, but to the city’s economy as well.

“It will bring more people and more teachers. Housing may be a problem for new residents, but the city and its business are ready to handle it,” Long said. “It’ll take several years to see the full impact, but Perry County is moving in the right direction.”

With more than 300 new scholarship opportunities, Senator Bobby, D-24th District, said was happy to be a part of the merge. In terms of economical impact, he said, being under state control will make room to hire more staff from “groundskeepers all the way up to faculty.”

“Going from an institution that was in financial trouble to one that will have more scholarships, and a better benefit package – which will allow them to hire better employees – will help the community,” Representative Ralph Howard, D-District 72, said. “And the decrease in tuition will allow more local children be able to afford to attend school here.”

But even though some may say that becoming a state institution may lead to financial trouble one day, Benson said even if there was a decrease in state funds, the school’s financial situation couldn’t get any worse than it is now.

“There will always be some trepidation when you give control to a public entity, but we are confident that this will be a great move for us,” Benson said.

And the state is ready to absorb, and eliminate, MMI’s debt and enrollment problems, Riley said.

“If you look at debts and assets then take a look around this campus, about two of these building are worth more than the debt,” he said. “The school is financially viable today, but we are going to see more investment of state money into the school. Plus the tuition is so expensive that it denies some children the opportunity to go through the program here. Now we will give more opportunities than we ever have.”

June 1 marks the start of a new day for Marion and the state of Alabama, Riley said, and everyone will soon understand why.