Recruitment, retention, graduation. Get used to those three words because Mississippi University for Women’s new president, Dr. Jim Borsig, plans to use them a lot during his tenure.
They are the first mission of the university, Borsig told faculty and staff Friday morning during the annual Spring Convocation at MUW’s Nissan Auditorium.
Each aspect fulfills a specific role in The W’s long-term health, and Borsig — who believes strongly in evidence-based decision making — plans to use data and experience to determine needs, strategies and focus.
He admitted that such emphasis on hard numbers can drain the meaning out of things, but it also ensures that what’s needed gets done.
It was the beginning of the “messy conversations” Borsig has been promising to have since his appointment as president Nov. 30.
“I’m here for the long haul … We will have this conversation as long as I’m at this university,” he said.
He also reiterated his commitment to being a visible president, strolling campus, talking to students, “popping in” on classes and participating in community events. Thursday night, he attended an art exhibit opening at Rosenzweig Arts Center and found himself immediately surrounded by a swarm of people. Everyone wanted to meet and welcome The W’s new president.
“I’ve been here 45 minutes, and this is as far as I’ve gotten into the room,” he joked as he stood just a few feet from the door.
The response has been equally effusive on campus.
“Thank you for making me feel welcome,” Borsig told faculty and staff. “I’m not sure what I expected, but I have been overwhelmed.”
Now, as he rolls up his sleeves and begins his first year, he’s looking to develop a framework for the future. And everything begins with identifying the college’s unique assets and using them to the utmost advantage.
The framework will determine the path forward, and the path forward will help each person on campus find a place to fit into the overall picture.
The days when a student attended only one college are long gone. Students are showing up with transfer credits from multiple universities, and, increasingly, online courses. It creates a challenge when recruiting students because administrators now must figure out how to welcome a new reality in terms of students’ prior educational experience and current aspirations, Borsig said.
In addition, more students are transferring from community colleges than in the past, and there are more nontraditional students. Another growing area is the amount of women in the state who have some college but dropped out before obtaining a degree and women who have associate’s degrees but didn’t take their education further, Borsig said.
Because of The W’s strong sense of place and its reputation as “a light in this region,” Borsig said he sees an opportunity for the college to play a unique role in serving niche areas such as these. He sees the size of the campus as an asset rather than a detriment and believes it can be used to its advantage in attracting students who want “a private college feel at a public university price.”
MUW has an enrollment of about 2,600, its highest in the past decade.
Technology has changed the world, and that’s especially noticeable on college campuses, where nearly every student carries a smartphone, Borsig said. Today’s scholars are tech savvy, and their innate comfort with technology has given rise to a new set of expectations. They communicate with one another via text message and email, and they expect to do the same with their professors.
To retain students, Borsig said, consideration must be taken to meet their expectations.
“We’ve got to do the best we can do with the students we enroll, to educate them and graduate them,” he said.
It’s not that good things aren’t already in place; it’s a matter of capitalizing on those things and laying out strategies, he added.
One of the key benefits of student retention is economic: More students equals more money. More money will allow the college to be more independent and will “put The W in control of its destiny,” Borsig said.
With fluctuating state funding, it will also be important to keep expenditures in line. While MUW can’t control how much money it receives from the state, it can use student recruitment and retention as means to control its future.
One thing Borsig expects to see is more supportive state leadership, especially as leaders become more cognizant of the link between education and economic development.
Along those same lines, as government works toward establishing a culture of more accountability and transparency, the same will be expected of colleges. State leaders will begin to place more emphasis on productivity and that’s where evaluating the data will become important, Borsig said.
It will be important to show that the college not only enrolls students, but it also can graduate them.
According to research at the state College Board’s website, 36.1 percent of freshmen who enrolled at MUW in fall 2001 graduated from the institution within a six-year period. The average for all eight of Mississippi’s public universities was 49.3 percent.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.