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With merger, name change off table, what's next for The W?

 

The Mississippi University for Women campus is seen Saturday afternoon.

The Mississippi University for Women campus is seen Saturday afternoon. Photo by: Luisa Porter  Buy this photo.

 

Jason Browne

 

 

Opinions about the future of Mississippi University for Women are as diverse as the many groups who hold a stake in the college''s success. But a couple truths are universally accepted: MUW is facing serious challenges and nobody knows how to meet them. 

 

At least not yet. 

 

After a bill aiming to merge MUW with Mississippi State University, and another to give the state College Board permission to change the school''s name, were shot down in legislative committees last week, invested groups are headed back to their proverbial drawing boards. Even those opposed to the proposed legislation don''t necessarily have better ideas. They just know they didn''t like the ideas being proposed. 

 

With that, the brainstorming has resumed. 

 

 

 

''Other options'' 

 

The administration at MUW, headed by outgoing President Dr. Claudia Limbert, who proposed the name change, are keeping quiet about their plans. 

 

"We''ll just have to look at other options," said Limbert addressing the failed name change. The administration had hoped a new name would make the school more attractive to male students and boost enrollment as it struggles to offset an expected $3.5 million cut in state funding over the next two years. 

 

A planned 5 percent increase in tuition in each of the next two years, in conjunction with a projected 2 percent increase in enrollment, would have offset approximately 30 percent of the funding shortfall. The school plans to make up the rest in cuts and efficiencies. 

 

A plan submitted to the State College Board estimates MUW will cut 29 jobs, five degree offerings, 15 courses and one department over the next two years.  

 

Limbert declined to go into specifics regarding MUW''s marketing strategies and how it intends to meet the projected increase in enrollment. 

 

"We''re always looking at different marketing strategies. We''re very up to date with our marketing, being very tech savvy," she said. 

 

MUW, which has the smallest enrollment of the state''s universities, had a Fall 2009 enrollment of 2,478, a 4.8 percent increase over Fall 2008.  

 

 

 

Partnering with EMCC 

 

Another group counting on the name change to provide a spike in enrollment was the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link, which represents local business interests. Joe Max Higgins, chairman of the Link, says his executive committee will meet Tuesday to discuss future strategies to grow the university. 

 

Recently, the Link has been involved with talks between MUW and East Mississippi Community College about a possible partnership between the schools. 

 

"We''ve been having a series of meetings. We''re wondering, if they merged, what would it look like?" said Higgins. 

 

Limbert insists the talks are purely to explore the idea and no agreements have been made. 

 

"We haven''t investigated it enough yet. It''s one of many ideas," she said of the partnership. 

 

Following the failure of the name change bill to make it out of Senate committee, Higgins says the Link will stay on the sidelines for a spell. 

 

"I don''t think we''ll be orchestrating any other changes. We''ll wait and see and hope everything works out for the best. The university is very important for our community," he said. 

 

EMCC President Dr. Rick Young has stated his enthusiastic support for a partnership with MUW. 

 

"We would embrace the opportunity and try to grow The W by hopefully having more of our students that would transfer from EMCC to The W," said Young. 

 

MUW began offering a Tuition Guarantee program this semester to Lowndes County students who complete their associate''s degrees at EMCC. Dr. Bucky Wesley, vice president of student affairs for MUW, says the program may be extended to cover students from other counties in EMCC''s Golden Triangle Campus district. 

 

The proposed partnership already has the support of one local legislator. State Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, says MUW would benefit from a pipeline of students from EMCC, whose enrollment is "growing by leaps and bounds." 

 

"EMCC is talking about capital improvement and expansion. Why not just get part of MUW and have an agreement to utilize the buildings and one of the dorms?" he said. 

 

If a deal can''t be struck with EMCC, MUW will have to find another way to appeal to new students. State Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, says that can only be done by promoting the university''s strong points, but in a new way. 

 

"I don''t know what they can do. They''ve got to do a massive amount of marketing, which will take up a lot of money," he said. "They''ve got to market the quality of education, smaller classrooms, more economical costs. They''ve got the best nursing school in the South. They''ve got to market that big time." 

 

 

 

Reuniting the alumni 

 

State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, says part of the answer for MUW may lie in reconnecting with the school''s past. He says MUW''s new administration should reach out to the disaffiliated Mississippi''s First Alumnae Association to tap into that group''s recruiting and fundraising abilities. 

 

"The W needs to make peace with the alumni. That''s the first thing the new president better do, because without the alumni''s support, the new president will have an equally hard time," said Chism. "Once everybody starts singing off the same page, everybody will be a recruiter." 

 

Lillian Wade, who will take over as president of Mississippi''s First Alumnae Association in April, agrees with Chism''s assessment. During a First Alumnae meeting Saturday in Columbus she said the group is constantly on the lookout for highschoolers to steer toward MUW and the Lowndes County Chapter has also raised over $100,000 in scholarship funds for MUW. 

 

"We have always given money. We''ll give more. We''ve always been out looking for students. We''re still going to do that," said Wade. 

 

While the alumnae don''t have any specific suggestions for MUW administrators, beyond opposing mergers or a name change, Wade says the group refuses to panic. Even state Institutions of Higher Learning Commissioner Hank Bounds'' proclamation that, without a name change to stimulate enrollment, MUW won''t look the same after two years hasn''t impressed the alumnae. 

 

"We''ve seen bad times come and go. Hard times look terrible going into the tunnel, but there''s always a light at the end of the tunnel," said Wade. 

 

One thing that does scare Wade is the prospect of cutting programs and degrees at MUW in the name of saving money. 

 

"You cannot cut education to solve economic problems. Any time you cut something, it takes forever to bring it back. When it''s cut, more than likely, it''s gone forever," she said. 

 

Dr. Ricki Garrett, a member of the Alumnae Association and a past member of the state College Board, says the current College Board should make the search for a new president for MUW a priority. 

 

"The potential is very high that, with support from MUW alums and the new administration, enrollment could grow significantly. Then there can be better relationships between MUW leadership and business leaders," said Garrett. 

 

Furthermore, she says the university must refocus its mission of promoting women''s leadership. And while the Alumnae Association are staunch opponents of a merger with MSU, Garrett says a partnership with EMCC might be exactly what the school needs. 

 

"I think all universities ought to partner with community colleges. That''s one of our strengths in Mississippi is a good transfer policy between universities and community colleges. Any time higher education can forge those partnerships it''s always better for schools and the community."

 

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment zzzzzzzzzzzagain commented at 2/6/2010 11:13:00 PM:

I must clarify something...
That was not intended to be disrespectful of anyone who suffers from legitimate cases of any/all of those symptoms. Please note the first part of the term, "hypochondriatic", and most folks get what a hypochondriac is all about...themselves and their fantasy illnesses. I will offer no "no offense" disclaimer to those people.

 

Article Comment Mark commented at 2/7/2010 2:57:00 PM:

Chism doesn't get it, to empower the blue haired mafia back into the university will only establish the same ole same ole. We were trying to move ahead but the blue haired mafia had control of Chism and the legislature. You can't keep letting the fox back into the hen house and expect to produce more eggs.

 

Article Comment JC commented at 2/8/2010 9:07:00 AM:

Great comment, Alena. Welcome.

On a completely unrelated note: hey Dispatch - how's Captcha working out for eliminating spam?

 

Article Comment Bubba Gump commented at 2/8/2010 9:10:00 AM:

What's next for the W?

I think we've entered the "curl up and die" phase, haven't we? The death certificate will list the cause of death as "cranial density".

 

Article Comment Death of the W commented at 2/8/2010 10:17:00 AM:

Watch talking about the Blue Haired Mafia. I had a comment pulled when I mentioned them..... I can't believe they have that much control!

 

Article Comment jr commented at 2/8/2010 11:20:00 AM:

Hypochondriasis (or hypochondria, often referred to as health phobia) refers to an excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness.[1] Often, hypochondria persists even after a physician has evaluated a person and reassured them that their concerns about symptoms do not have an underlying medical basis or, if there is a medical illness, the concerns are far in excess of what is appropriate for the level of disease. Many people suffering from this disorder focus on a particular symptom as the catalyst of their worrying, such as gastro-intestinal problems, palpitations, or muscle fatigue

 

Article Comment Hopeless commented at 2/8/2010 12:40:00 PM:

The question now is, will the death be fast or slow and painful? The other option is everyone check their ego's at the door and do the best they can for MUW, but that'll never happen.

 

Article Comment WDT commented at 2/8/2010 1:11:00 PM:

Does it really matter what anyone thinks about what the "W" will do now? Think about it, obviously everyone who supported the proposed name change did not know what was best for the "W". Only those few politicians who were so frightened of a few "W" alumnae and as a result would not listen to the local leaders' opinions. If there is ever a case where democracy did not work, this is it. Way to go legislature

 

Article Comment olemissfan commented at 2/8/2010 2:42:00 PM:

Ok. so on another article that talks about adding a public safety and technology degree...then why does this article talk about cutting 29 jobs and 5 degrees. it doesnt make much sense. just curious...how do you add 2 degrees when the W has submitted a plan to cut 5 degrees??

 

Article Comment duhmissfan commented at 2/8/2010 7:40:00 PM:

You add degree programs that you believe will attract majors. You delete degree programs that have not attracted majors. It's really not that complicated. No doubt you're an Ole Miss grad or fan.

 

Article Comment Tired commented at 2/11/2010 10:49:00 AM:

Not only did the "elected(servant) officials" not listen to the local leaders' opinions, the alums desires', but they flat out ignored the statistical data and proof which was presented by professionals in the area of higher education which supported a name change would benefit MUW. The data pointed more to the fact that women are simply not interested in attending an all women's institution. Only 3% in the country will consider and remember there are other women's institutions around the country seeking this 3%, that will ONLY CONSIDER. You do the math.

 

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