February 19, 2010 10:07:00 AM
Jason Browne - email@example.com
Don''t call it a merger, but Mississippi University for Women and Mississippi State University will begin sharing a pair of degrees this fall and will explore consolidation of administrative services.
Responding to the State College Board''s Thursday order that the schools explore consolidation possibilities, MUW President Dr. Claudia Limbert said she preferred the term "shared services."
"We''ll look at various functional things from each campus to look and see where we can save some money," said Limbert.
MSU President Mark Keenum said in a statement the "arrangement simply involves one university helping another during extraordinary times." But neither party could say if or when the shared services would come to an end.
Limbert says MUW is eager to participate in the consolidation in order to save money, which will in turn protect academic programs.
"This is what we need to do. It''s what we must do. It''s for the good of the university," she says.
Because the process is in its infancy, officials from neither school are sure what form the consolidation will take. Both schools must appoint a coordinator and a team to study consolidation options, then report back to the state College Board.
Scott Ross, president of the College Board, says no deadlines have been set for the universities to report back to the board. He says areas to consolidate could include departments such as accounting, human resources or payroll.
The joint venture between MUW and MSU is described as a "pilot" that could be extended to other state schools. Gov. Haley Barbour has recommended Jackson State be merged with Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State along with the merger of MSU and MUW, but no officials have said whether the College Board will make a similar demand of the historically black colleges.
Ross says he could foresee consolidation of some departments among all state schools.
"For instance, why do you have to have eight payroll departments?" he said. "We are all part of the same system. The money the state appropriates to the IHL board is split among eight universities, so a savings to the system is a savings to the system."
Ross has made no secret he believes MUW will struggle in coming years if drastic measures aren''t taken, and he''s not alone in that opinion. State Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, says he was approached by Institutions of Higher Learning Commissioner Hank Bounds earlier this week regarding the consolidation of services and agrees cooperation between the two schools is necessary.
"Personally, I think (MUW) has no choice but to do this. They''re still facing major budget cuts, maybe 25 percent, so they have got to consolidate," he says.
Brown says the consolidation likely won''t affect classes.
"There won''t be anything leaving campus. MSU will just have a presence out there," he says. "I think he''s talking about accounting and information technology stuff. Not any courses and stuff like that."
However, MUW will be offering two of its marquee degrees to MSU students through a joint degree program signed Thursday by both university presidents.
MSU Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Glenn Steele says MSU students will have the opportunity to earn an MUW nursing degree in addition to MSU''s pre-nursing degree via a five-year program. And a joint culinology degree will be offered through MUW''s culinology program and MSU''s food-science and nutrition program.
The degrees will require students to take classes at both universities.
Limbert says the joint degree programs, which are scheduled to become available this fall, are common.
"It''s not a merger at all. It''s two different degree programs. This is done all the time in higher education," she said. "I think it''s an excellent program because students will receive two degrees, and that will make them very employable."
The joint nursing degree will only be available to MSU students who will complete three years of pre-nursing classes at MSU to earn a bachelor''s of science in interdisciplinary studies before two years of nursing classes at MUW to earn a nursing degree. MUW nursing students will remain on the four-year track and receive just one degree.