I envision a transformational concept of a five-year strategic plan to elevate Jackson State University, one of Mississippi’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, from its current Research 2 (R2) status to a future Research 1 (R1) stature. R2 institutions, while not as intensely research-driven as their R1 counterparts, still contribute substantially to the world of academia. While they award at least 20 research and scholarship doctoral degrees, unlike R1's 30 doctoral degrees, their emphasis is more evenly distributed between teaching and research.

In March 2022, David Rosowsky, vice president of research at Kansas State University, wrote about the role of research at American universities in Forbes:

“The community, region, and state benefit from the research activity of the university. This is especially true for public research universities,” he wrote. “Research also contributes directly to economic development, clinical, commercial, and business opportunities. Resources brought into the university through grants and contracts support faculty, staff, and student salaries, often adding additional jobs, contributing directly to the tax base.”

“Research universities, through their expertise, reputation, and facilities, can attract new businesses into their communities or states,” Rosowsky continued. “They can also launch and incubate startup companies, or license and sell their technologies to other companies. Research universities often host meetings and conferences which creates revenue for local hotels, restaurants, event centers and more.”

Jackson State University sign on a short red brick wall with the college campus behind it
“This bridging could not only ignite, incubate, and innovate new PhD programs under R1 standards with the Carnegie classification system, but could also generate North Star student aspirants and their interests to JSU from other Jackson area colleges and universities,” Stevenson writes. Photo courtesy Jackson State University

JSU would be the first HBCU in America to attain R1 classification. To do so, JSU must first determine internal infrastructural capacity and other institutional capability for R2 status to R1 stature elevation based on Carnegie’s framework requirements. To reach the classification, institutions of higher learning must award “at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees; have at least $5 million in total research expenditures; and score highly on two indices of research activity.” 

Second, JSU must meticulously focus all research ambitions based on the manifestations of measurable and achievable student learning outcomes with pursued research capacity, comparability and capability. This is especially critical as well as crucial to this former JSU provost concerning student centeredness of the references of the ”North Star” by the president at JSU and the president of HBCU Morgan State University.  

Third, after the infrastructure and framework are together conceptualized in unison for nascent implementation, two external alignments are pursued based on access to state and national capitol, partnerships, and resources in Jackson. All federal agencies in the capital city are also rightly positioned for daily travel to the national capitol Washington, D.C.

These two alignments would include all federal agencies and philanthropic foundations in and around Jackson and Central Mississippi. It is time for JSU to go to the next level, and this elevating transformation does that for now and for future generations. Bridging from local greater good research here in Jackson with national bigger picture research in Washington, D.C., optimizes the meeting of local needs while simultaneously maximizing national demands in each cities’ ethos, environments and ecosystems.

In January 2024, The National Science Foundation ranked JSU third among the top 20 doctorate-granting institutions in the nation for producing African American doctorates. Also, the scope of JSU’s doctoral degree programming reaches Carnegie Foundation’s classification thresholds. Among Carnegie’s recently awarded universities to receive this “highest and most coveted category rank” are Baylor, Kent State, North Dakota State, Old Dominion, University of Denver, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Memphis, Utah State and the University of Texas at San Antonio. None of these nine universities are HBCUs, and none of these institutions of higher learning are in or near capital cities with accessible federal government ethos, environments and ecosystems to potentially partner with. 

Other HBCUs such as Tennessee State in the capital city of Nashville; Tuskegee University near the capital city of Montgomery, Ala.; Hampton University near the national capital district Washington, D.C.; and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta are also optimally and maximally situated for R1 stature.

I was very impressed with the futuristic “North Star” metaphor, which encourages JSU to implement measurable student outcomes and other related metric-based institutional outputs based on “empowering students to develop research skills” at Harvard’s “HILT; “the importance of including students’ perspectives in research” reported by Vincent Wiggins with Springer Link; the importance of “undergraduate students’ involvement in research” reported by Yusuff Adebayo Adebisi with the National Library of Medicine; and the work at Cleveland University in Kansas City reported by Mark Pfefer, who advocates that “(when) students are taught strategies to search for information and assess the quality of the information found, … students learn good critical appraisal skills.”

Given JSU's new commitment to serving students with the “North Star” metaphor, JSU would benefit from bridging measurable student learning outcomes in undergraduate and graduate level research with the new R1 stature from R2 status. This bridging could not only ignite, incubate, and innovate new doctorate programs under R1 standards with the Carnegie classification system, but could also generate North Star student aspirants and their interests to JSU from other Jackson area colleges and universities. This seems most appropriate for a publically supported and subsidized institution in higher learning in the Capital City of Jackson.

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Crirec, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to [email protected]. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

Joseph Martin Stevenson, Ph.D, of Madison, Miss., was the first named provost at Jackson State University and also served as a provost at Mississippi Valley State University.