OXFORD, Miss. – The Patterson School of Accountancy at the University of Mississippi has received a $1.4 million funding initiative from the U.S. Department of Education that will help as many as 40 minority and first-generation college students earn degrees in the field over the next three years.
The Minority and First-Generation Educational Initiative Scholarship was established in August to support Mississippi residents who are minority or first-generation college students in their pursuit of a Bachelor of Accountancy, Master of Accountancy and Data Analytics or Master of Taxation and Data Analytics. The funding, totaling $1,448,000, will each year support eight new freshmen, four new community college transfers and eight new masters’ students.
The funding will affect generations of Mississippians, said W. Mark Wilder, dean of the accounting school.
“Our program and the education we provide is highly valued in the marketplace,” Wilder said. “Our students are in high demand and receive well-paying jobs. The Patterson School education they receive has the ability to impact not only the lives of the graduates themselves, but also their children, grandchildren and future generations of their family.”
Morris Stocks, the Don Jones Chair of Accountancy who spearheaded the funding, said more diversity is needed in the accounting field. Firms looking for prospective hires often inquire about first-generation and minority standouts in the school, he said.
“We have such a sense of belief that this is a highly transformative program, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to extend the reach of this program,” Stocks said.
The funding, which was approved after the school year began, is partially sponsoring two students this semester and fully supporting graduate student Caitlyn Henry, who is pursuing a Master of Accountancy and Data Analytics.
Henry, a first-generation college student from Isola, received notice of her eligibility for the grant on the first day of the fall semester and recalls feeling “overwhelmed with gratitude and slight disbelief.”
“This scholarship provides a powerful incentive for Mississippi students who may be conflicted about furthering their education,” she said. “This grant alleviates a huge financial burden for both students and their families and provides greater access to higher education so that students can develop professionalism skills and slingshot their careers.
One of Henry’s primary reasons for attending Ole Miss during her undergraduate career was her award of a Luckyday Scholarship, which supports Mississippi students and covers the cost of tuition for four years.
“Financial needs are an obstacle many of these students like me are having to face every day,” she said. “Growing up in the Mississippi Delta and seeing the people around me who don’t have the same education opportunities that I have been so blessed to receive have brought a fresh light to the socioeconomic barriers that so many people are trying to overcome.”
While financially assisting students, the program also will fund a success coach position within the accountancy program, Stocks said. The person hired for this position will mentor and keep track of the progress of grant recipients.
“If a student has somebody they can go to and just ask, ‘What can I do about this?’ they tend to succeed,” he said. “The person in this position would be charged with keeping contact with these students and encouraging them to be successful.”
Funding to employ graduate students as mentors to undergraduates is also ingrained within the program, Stocks said.
These resources may be particularly valuable for first-generation students who may not have a parent or family member to whom they can direct those questions, Wilder said.
Henry said most students who identify as minority or first-generation “have a certain level of grit and determination that makes them a unique caliber of student,” but that they also tend to place a lot of pressure on themselves. Having a success coach in the department will help them maintain their goals without being overwhelmed, she said.
“Oftentimes, I think it’s easy to get caught up in small defeats and not see the overall picture,” Henry said. “Having a mentor to turn to at times when you’re feeling discouraged is such a valuable resource because they have been in your shoes.
“They can give you the encouragement you need to keep pushing forward.”
The Patterson School of Accountancy will be supporting more students in the spring semester and begin seeking student applicants for fall 2023, Stocks said. Graduate students from any university may apply, provided that they are current Mississippi residents. There is no minimum GPA requirement to apply.
Students seeking an application for the grant should contact Stocks at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.