Merger would make certain MMI stays open

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Yesterday, Marion Military Institute moved one step closer to joining the rankings of The Citadel in South Carolina and Virginia Military Institute by becoming a public two-year college.

The bill passed in Thursday’s state meeting with a 99-2 vote in favor of the change to add the school to the state’s two-year college system.

“We had an extraordinary vote in the House,” MMI president Col. Jim Benson said. “I think they were keeping in mind the mission of Marion Military Institute to create both civilian and military leaders in the state.”

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Now, it is up to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and the school’s board of trustees, which initially suggested the change, to make the final decision.

Riley’s communications director Jeff Emerson told the Associated Press that Riley will sign the bill because he “is inclined” to, but wants to read it before making a final decision.

Although the school had a “very fine” year financially and is off to another good year of financial standing, Benson said the tuition, and room and boarding fees were too high to expect an increase in enrollment. And with a decrease in enrollment comes a decrease in alum and alumni funds.

“We had too many empty beds and deferred maintenance. If a severe hiccup in the economy occurred, we would’ve had asked the question of whether or not we could remain open,” Benson said. “But as a state-funded operation, we can continue to fundraise and use that money for campus projects and maintenance.”

In the 1960’s, an average of 700 students were enrolled in college at MMI. In 2006, the student body is still growing, but faced a dramatic decrease over the years.

“Enrollment has gone up three years in a row,” Benson said, “But now it’s increasing from 300 instead of 700 like it was more than 20 years ago.”

Now that the school is under state control, Benson said tuition will decrease, and he hopes that alone, will bring a rush of students.

“Tuition, not room and board, will decrease dramatically. It’ll go from about $14,000 down to about two or $3,000,” he said, “and that will make Marion an alternative for more Alabama students.”

Both Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro, and the Perry County Commission welcomed the move to make MMI a state institution.

“I live in one of the poorest districts in the state,” Howard, who is responsible for Perry County, told the Associated Press. “This is an opportunity to bring a two-year college to Perry County and it’s a good opportunity for the district.”

“I am in tremendous support of the board,” Commissioner Brett Harrison said at the Commission’s Tuesday morning meeting.

“Economically, this is a positive move for the county, as well as, the school,” Benson said. “This will bring more money to Perry County and it will bring in state resources.”

Although the college is making increasing strides, the MMI high school is expected to close after the last class graduates in three years.

“This is our ticket from good to great,” Benson said. “This will definitely increase our potential to be a better school.”