A new image for Marion Military Institute

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 25, 2007

MARION &8212; A bill passed by the state legislature in March of 2006 placed Marion Military Institute, a 165-year-old private institution, under the auspices of the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education, causing concern over the school&8217;s future viability.

Today at MMI, classes are on as usual and cadets wake up each morning at 6 a.m. to fit &8220;more work into a day than there are hours,&8221; according to Vice Chairman and President Col. James H. Benson.

When Benson came on to the school nearly four years ago, he began looking for ways to grow the institution, including approaching then chancellor of the two year college system, Roy Jones, about creating a &8220;world class military institute.&8221;

A risk assessment done by the state determined the addition of MMI to the state would bring a value of nearly $56.2 million in facilities and equipment, not including the unknown value of the school&8217;s property.

Eventually the state and MMI came to an agreement of terms and the school officially came under the ADPE by June 2006.

Benson said the transition period for the school has not been easy, but he sees definite benefits for the future of the school.

One of the biggest sacrifices of the school&8217;s transition period, Benson said, is the phasing out of the high school portion of MMI, which should be done by 2009.

Wendy Nichols, alumni assistant and public relations coordinator, was an alumnus of MMI&8217;s high school division.

When asked how the cadets responded to the change, Benson said there were very strong feelings.

The students who eventually come to MMI, Benson said, come for a variety of reasons. The basic cadet program attracts a large percentage of student athletes.

The other two tracts, the Early Commission Program and the Service Academy Program, are geared towards cadets who are looking to be a part of some branch of the military in the future.

Although the high school will be phased out of the school, Benson said, the junior college aspect of the school is growing each year. Enrollment numbers for the 2007-2008 year are approximately 80 students higher than the previous year.

Just one of the projects in store for MMI to continue positive growth, Benson said, is to heavily recruit athletes to join new sports teams such as women&8217;s tennis, softball and basketball.

Benson said the other need for the institution is in a significant upgrade in the school&8217;s facilities, which he describes as &8220;dated.&8221;