The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees has selected a new president of Delta State University following a nationwide search.
Daniel J. Ennis will be the ninth president of the regional college in Cleveland, a small town in the Mississippi Delta. He is currently serving as the provost and executive vice president of Coastal Carolina University in northeastern South Carolina, a position he worked up to after starting there as an assistant professor of English in 1999.
In recent years, the board has made it a priority to hire alumni to lead Mississippi’s universities. Ennis, who has degrees from colleges in the Carolinas and Alabama, is the first non-alumnus to be selected to lead a state university since 2017. At listening sessions last year, the Delta State community was split on if its next president should be an outsider or an alumnus.
“As I have learned more about the university, the Delta region, and the state of Mississippi, I have been inspired by the history, culture, and resilience of the people with whom I will soon work and live,” Ennis said in a press release. “I am committed to helping Delta State University continue to thrive, and my wife and I look forward to becoming members of the community.”
His tenure will begin June 1. It was not immediately clear how much Ennis will be paid, but Delta State’s interim president, E.E. Butch Caston, is making $300,000.
The search for a new president at Delta State began after the board suddenly let go William LaForge, the university’s eighth president, due to declining enrollment and financial metrics.
LaForge’s tenure saw repeated budget cuts. In the last eight years, enrollment has plummeted at Delta State faster than at any other public university in Mississippi. Headcount has dropped 29% percent since 2014, with just 2,556 students enrolled this year.
In a press release, IHL touted Ennis’s success in boosting first-year retention and enrollment at CCU and his ability to bring in financial resources.
“Dr. Ennis is also experienced and accomplished in friend- and fund-raising,” the press release reads. “He connects donors, faculty, and the community and helps them to see the potential in the institution by articulating how their resources can transform lives.”
Ennis had served as the president of CCU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, a membership-based organization that advocates for faculty. This goes to show that Ennis “understands how shared governance strengthens the university and helps a wide variety of campus community voices to be heard,” the press release notes.
Ennis is also involved in a restructuring of CCU that led to the creation of the Conway Medical Center College of Health and Human Performance in 2021.
“His long tenure there demonstrates how beloved he is by the campus community,” Teresa Hubbard, an IHL trustee and Delta State alumnus who chaired the board’s presidential search community, said in a press release. “His academic credentials, administrative skills, student-centered focus, and ability to connect students, faculty, alumni and the community make him a great fit for the university.”
It was not clear how many applicants the board received or the number of finalists interviewed by trustees. Many aspects of IHL’s presidential searches are confidential.
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.