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Landscape Services keeps Ole Miss ‘America’s Most Beautiful Campus’

Despite being selected as the most beautiful campus in America, Ole Miss landscaping operates in a cost efficient manner.
Phillip Waller/ The Daily Mississippian

The University of Mississippi’s beauty is well-known across the country, but how it is kept beautiful is more of a mystery to most. Keeping Ole Miss' "America’s Most Beautiful Campus" title, as it was named by Newsweek in 2011, is in fact a complex financial and logistical operation.
The campus is maintained by the University of Mississippi Landscape Services Department, which operates under the Office for the Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance. The mission statement of the department sums its role up well: “Our Mission is to provide professional services to the university, which ensures that its natural splendor is well maintained, environmentally sensitive and aesthetically pleasing to our customers. Our objective is to expand the beauty of the campus in order to attract, support and increase a healthy, safe learning background.”
Financing such operations is a complex endeavor, but one the university manages more efficiently than many of its peer institutions. In the Grounds Costs Survey, conducted by the University of South Carolina , Ole Miss had the lowest cost per acre of the surveyed universities in Mississippi. At the time of the survey, the university spent an average of $1,089.00 per acre on landscaping for 43,560,000 square feet of land, which was maintained by 24 full-time employees. The entire landscaping budget came to $1,089,662.00. 
This figure can be compared to Mississippi State University’s landscaping budget, which totaled $2,074,536.00. Mississippi State spent $1,729.00 per acre on 52,272,000 square feet of land, employing 33 employees to maintain the campus.
Landscape Services' budget is financed through a combination of student fees, private donations and state allocations, according to the the Office for the Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance. It would be difficult to analyze exactly what percentage of the budget is comprised of each funding source since Landscape Service’s budget comes from a fund used for many campus necessities.
Fiscal efficiency has not reduced the quality of the work product Landscape Services provides for Ole Miss, however. Newsweek ranked Ole Miss as the number one most beautiful campus in America.
Keeping the campus so well maintained takes a lot of work. In the fiscal year of 2010, over 1,053 trees, 10,381 shrubs and 8,760 yards of sod were planted. Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Larry Sparks said the growth of the university has had a mixed impact on Landscaping Services. 
“The growth of Ole Miss has certainly impacted the work of Landscape Services,” Sparks said. “Sometimes, as we grow, new facilities reduce the acreage of the campus and thus the need for landscaping labor. Other times, expansion necessitates a higher level of maintenance and care for the campus.” 
Sparks said that despite challenges, the work Landscape Services does is “vital to the environment of the university.” 
“I definitely think the aesthetic of the university fosters a better learning environment,” he said. “When we are recruiting students, we know that if we can get them on campus, we will have made up their mind. It’s a place students want to learn and live.”