Al Rankins, president of Alcorn State University, will replace Glenn Boyce as Commissioner of Higher Education. His appointment marks the first time an African American has been selected to oversee Mississippi’s college board – a group of trustees that governs the public universities he would not have been permitted to attend 60 years ago.

Rankins was named president of Alcorn in March 2014. He has also served as the Institutions of Higher Learning deputy commissioner and on the faculty of Mississippi State University.

“It has been a privilege for me to serve as president of Alcorn State University for the past four years and I’m honored to take on this new role within the university system. My experiences both in the system office and as a campus leader have helped me to see the university system from different perspectives,” Rankins said at a meeting announcing his appointment on Friday.

In a letter addressed to the “Alcorn Family,” Rankins noted that under his leadership the university enrolled the largest freshman class in ASU’s history last fall, improved facilities and rose in national rankings.

“I think [Rankins’ appointment] is great and I think he has his work cut out for him. It’s not going to be an easy job because being commissioner of IHL is not…especially with the funding being as it is. It’s going to be a major challenge as I see it based on the funds that we have at this time. But I’m sure that he will be able to handle it, because at Alcorn we were taught how to do a lot with a little. I hope he’ll come up with some innovative ways to get some funds for IHL,” said Rep. Alyce Clarke, the first female black legislator and Alcorn alum.

Boyce, who has served as commissioner since April 17, 2015, will retire June 30.

“[Boyce has] been an outstanding commissioner,” said C.D. Smith, board president of the IHL. “He understands the needs of our students and the state and has worked tirelessly to advance the university system.”

The board elected to choose Rankins through an “expedited search process” rather than involving a board search committee.

Per the board’s policy, it is permitted to “interview candidates that are known to the Board and consider their selection in accordance with the expedited process,” instead of involving a search committee and an extended search process.

“Our policy allows us to use either a 20-step process that takes several months to complete or, at our discretion, interview candidates that are known to the board, and consider their selection in accordance with our expedited search process.”

Smith said this route was chosen for two reasons: stability and economic efficiency.

“The stability of having a permanent commissioner in place rather than an interim commissioner during a long search process is advantageous for the system. In addition to saving time, the expedited process also allows us to save resources that would have been spent to engage a search firm,” Smith said.

Hiring a search firm is not obligatory under the board’s current policy. Its search process policy states that the board “may interview and will select the search consultant, if the board determines that one is needed.”

Rankins’ appointment comes at a time of significant transition for the university system, with four board members (including president Smith) retiring next month, Nora Miller being named interim president of the Mississippi University for Women on Thursday, as well as the appointment of new presidents for Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University during 2017.

Under the current IHL bylaws, some of the commissioner’s responsibilities include:

• Make constant inquiry into the problems of higher education

• Survey and study carefully the organization, management, and all other affairs of each institution under the control of the trustees

• Make report of all findings and recommend such changes as will increase efficiency and economy in the operation of each institution

• Perform such other duties as the Board may prescribe

Kayleigh Skinner contributed to this report. 

Kelsey Davis Betz

Kelsey Davis Betz is from Mobile, Ala., and currently lives in Cleveland, where she works as one of our Mississippi Delta-based reporters covering education and intersecting issues. Kelsey has a dual degree in journalism and Spanish from Auburn University and worked as an editorial intern at Texas Monthly and a courts reporter at the Montgomery Advertiser. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report and is a co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.