In what could be the prelude to a move Rep. Jeff Smith says could save the university, The W has begun offering an extension of East Mississippi Community College”s tuition-guarantee program.
Mississippi University for Women this semester began offering free tuition to Lowndes County students who”ve completed their associate”s degrees at EMCC with at least 2.5 GPA. Students must also exhaust all other scholarship and grant possibilities before qualifying for the program at EMCC and again at MUW. Tuition Guarantee will make up the difference.
Though the program is active, it has not been heavily advertised, said Dr. Bucky Wesley, vice president of student services for MUW.
EMCC offers a two-year tuition-guarantee program to all counties in its Golden Triangle campus” district. MUW may eventually follow suit, Wesley said, but the program is restricted to Lowndes County students for now.
“We”re trying to be good stewards of the resources we have. Right now we feel like we can handle this reasonably well. If this is successful we will move it out further,” he said.
The program is paid for by donations from a consortium of private Mississippi businesses.
The move isn”t intended to boost enrollment said Wesley, who will leave MUW in July to take a job as vice chancellor of student success and enrollment at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, but “it won”t hurt enrollment.”
EMCC”s tuition-guarantee program helped it to a state-best 19-percent jump in enrollment, Dr. Rick Young, president of EMCC, noted.
MUW is anticipating more than $3 million to be cut from its operating budget over the next two years, including cuts to scholarship funds. Tuition increases of 5 percent in each of the next two years will make up some of the difference, but the school still needs to address sagging enrollment figures. A push to give the state College Board power to change MUW”s name to make the school more attractive to students fell short Monday. The matter died in Senate committee for lack of a motion.
The failure of the name change initiative prompted State Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds to predict: “A year from now, MUW won”t look anything like it looks today.”
Many students who complete their associate”s degrees at EMCC already make the move to MUW, and the school would not want to undercut EMCC”s program by offering Tuition Guarantee for a full four years, Wesley said.
An expanded partnership could successfully see EMCC move most of its academic courses from its Mayhew campus to the MUW campus, said Young.
“We would embrace that opportunity and try to grow The W by hopefully having more of our students that would transfer from EMCC to The W,” he said.
Several factors predict the partnership”s success, he added.
“If we had EMCC students in classes on The W”s campus, once a student is familiar with the location and environment they might want to stay. And our makeup is local students from the area,” said Young.
Potential merging of classes to avoid duplication of services would have to be worked out, but Young believes having EMCC classes at MUW and EMCC students living on campus would help both schools grow. A partnership would send nearly 2,000 EMCC students to Columbus.
“We”re looking at a hybrid – something that”s never been done in Mississippi,” said Young.
“MUW and EMCC have had conversations during the past few months about increasing access to higher education and those conversations are ongoing,” MUW President Claudia Limbert said this morning. “No decisions have been reached beyond the free Tuition Guarantee Program announced yesterday.”
EMCC”s technical programs, which serve approximately one-third of its students, would remain at the Golden Triangle campus along with some academic offerings. Twenty five percent of technical curriculums must consist of academic courses and must be offered at the same campus.
A partnership may be the only thing that saves MUW from being forced to merge with Mississippi State or close, said Smith, D-Columbus.
“If EMCC can get some of its students there, when they get to be juniors and seniors, MUW would have a captive audience,” said Smith.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.