Despite challenges, MUW shows growth

April 20, 2013 7:33:27 PM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


While enrollment is down nationwide, enrollment at Mississippi University for Women is up more than two percent, university president Dr. Jim Borsig said Friday. 


Speaking to a room full of local business and community leaders over breakfast, Borsig said with the pace of technology and change in state funding, MUW has to appeal to a broader range of potential students than ever before. 


"Serving as a college president today has got to be one of the most interesting times in the history of higher education," he said. 


"Education is changing so rapidly for so many different reasons. We are facing one of the most fierce competition for students that has ever existed in American higher education.  


"Twenty-five years, 50 years ago, we were seeing 60 to 80 percent of our funding through the state of Mississippi. Competition and targeting students and doing what we needed to do really didn't matter so much in those days.  


"But today, our students pay most of the operating costs of the university, not the state of Mississippi. And so we're very student-oriented and I have been pretty direct about the fact that the group that we will listen to the most about the future of this university is those students that we're enrolling. We have got to serve them and we have got to reach them." 


"The good news is, our enrollment is up 2.3 percent. Now that number does not sound large, but I can cite lots of institutions that have not had increases and nationally for the first time in 30 years, enrollment in post-secondary education has declined." 


Borsig said the reason for the national decline is due to a decline in graduating high school students. 


"We've had a pretty good clip for the past 30 years and we've watched it plateau. It's not going to continue at that clip. There is not that demographic out there. There are fewer high school students which means high school students are not graduating in the numbers they once were." 


He added that in the state of Mississippi, community colleges were just as popular a choice for college freshman as four-year universities. 


"There are just as many students, freshmen and sophomores, in Mississippi community colleges as there are in the eight public institutions," he said. 


In an effort to reach not only potential students in Mississippi but students outside the region, Borsig was adamant about catering to a changing demographic.  


"The real opportunity is a shared kind of mission with East Mississippi (Community College) and other community colleges in teaching adults. We do one of the best jobs of teaching adults in the state of Mississippi. About 25 percent of our enrollment is over the age of 25. That is the growing market and that is the market we're going to be working intentionally to target." 


"The second piece of that is technology. Technology is changing how we teach." 


Borsig said compared to other colleges in the state, MUW has the third largest enrollment of online students and has witnessed a dramatic increase in the last five years. 


"That's something we're paying a lot of attention to," he said. "It's grown from the semester credit hours that we teach in 2007 from six percent to 43 percent in 2012." 


Borsig said that keeping up with the increase of students whose education is strictly online-based is imperative to the university. 


"The thing about technology is with such a disruptive, rapid change, that I joke -- but I'm not really joking -- when I say I worry about what's happened to record stores. Anybody here recently been in a record store? Anybody here recently in been in a video rental store to get a movie? 


With a snap of his fingers, Borsig said, "Technology changed those industries like that. Technology is changing education like that." 


As hundreds flock to The W campus this weekend for the four-day celebration of the school's homecoming, Borsig said the mission to continue to attract students remains clear. 


"We're going be intentional about traditional college students on this campus and we're going to fight hard for our share. We're going to be working over the next couple of years to raise money because we have to be able to (provide) scholarship(s) to the students who are in demand that all the universities in this region are competing for. We're also going to continue to serve those populations that we've set a pretty good standard with, which is distance learners, and nursing and those in culinary. Those are programs that we know we can continue to grow."

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.