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IHL approves two new online degree programs at Southern Miss



HATTIESBURG, Miss. – The Board of Trustees for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning approved two new online degree paths this week. The University of Southern Mississippi requested both programs.

Dr. Casey Prestwood, Associate Commissioner for Academic and Student Affairs, presented the proposed degrees to the IHL Board on Thursday. The programs include a Bachelor of Applied Science in allied health and a Doctor of Philosophy in computer science.

Prestwood announced that both programs will be offered entirely online.

The Bachelor of Applied Science degree will be a 120-hour online course. It currently exists as part of the public health Bachelor of Science degree, but the request to IHL aimed to make it a standalone path. Similar programs exist at Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi.

Prestwood cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics, noting approximately 1.8 million job openings in allied health fields. This demand is expected to grow due to employment growth and the need to replace transitioning employees.

“Allied health professionals obtaining a four-year degree also play a role in addressing workforce development needs in both healthcare and public health sectors,” Prestwood explained.

Southern Miss will also offer the Doctor of Philosophy in computer science degree online. This program will provide instruction in computing theory and practice, offering hands-on experience in cybersecurity research, data science, bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, computer vision, and robotics.

Prestwood mentioned that the program currently exists as an emphasis within the computational science Ph.D. program, but this proposal would elevate it to a standalone degree. Mississippi State offers a similar degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 682,000 job openings will be available for graduates with this degree from 2021 to 2031, with a median annual salary of $127,000.

The IHL Board approved both degree paths.

Additionally, the IHL Board approved the establishment of three centers during their regular meeting.

Three new Centers approved across the state

The University of Mississippi requested the creation of the Center for STEM Learning, which will be located in the Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation. Implementation will cost $550,000 annually, funded by university donations and grants. According to Dr. Prestwood, “Four new faculty and five new staff will be needed for this center.” Its primary purpose is to support STEM disciplines.

Meanwhile, the University of Southern Mississippi submitted requests for two centers: the Gulf South Center for Community Engaged Health Research and Innovation, and the Center for Community Engagement.

The Gulf South Center will be located on the Hattiesburg and Gulf Park campuses. It will cost $1.2 million annually, funded by donations and federal, state, and congressional monies. The center will conduct disease and health aging research to address health disparities.

Also, the Center for Community Engagement, which was created in 2000, merged with the Office of Community Service Learning in 2013 after it failed to meet requirements. “The center now meets the standards of being a true center, and USM is requesting the center be re-established,” Prestwood informed the IHL Board.

Re-established under the Office of the Provost, it will require $121,216 annually, funded by educational and general funds. Its purpose is to serve the entire university, including students, staff, faculty, and external community organizations. The goal is to develop meaningful community engagement, effect positive social changes, and assist in developing active citizen leaders.

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