January has been a month of firsts for Dr. Jim Borsig, Mississippi University for Women’s new president. This week marked another first — public speaking outside the campus environment.
Borsig was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club on Tuesday afternoon at the Columbus Country Club. For those who have heard him speak before, the refrain was familiar: The W needs to focus on recruitment, retention and graduation to become a 21st century institution. The challenge is to bring about transformation while preserving the university’s best qualities.
Education plays a key role in the state’s economic development, Borsig said, and for Mississippi to remain competitive, colleges will have to produce a well-trained workforce. That offers a niche role for The W, recruiting nontraditional students such as community college transfers.
The more students the university recruits, the less it will have to depend on state funding for survival, he said. The W receives 52 percent of its funding from tuition and the remainder from the state, a trend Borsig anticipates continuing. Increasing recruitment and retention is the answer, he said, not raising the cost of tuition.
With the increased focus on recruitment, “almost anything is on the table,” he said. That includes discussions about reinstating sports and trying to appeal more to male students. Student enrollment remains heavily tipped toward women, with men making up only 17 percent of the student population. The W has an enrollment of about 2,600.
But Borsig said he doesn’t see that as a hindrance to recruitment because he doesn’t see men and women in competition.
“The women’s mission is a mission for MUW, but it’s not the only mission,” he said.
Larry Cantrell, senior vice president of Cadence Bank, said he interpreted that to mean nothing is being taken away from The W’s traditional mission of serving women. Instead, the original mission is being expanded to appeal to all students.
“What’s wrong with that?” Cantrell asked. “Nothing.”
The university’s name is still a hindrance, though, said Bill Walker, vice president of Brickyard Properties. He thinks the name is a turnoff for male students who may not want their diplomas to say Mississippi University for Women or may not realize enrollment is open to men.
“It should have changed from day one,” Walker said. “It affects recruiting.”
But Lillian Wade, a 1968 MUW alumna, said in the end, gender is irrelevant.
“We have to bring in more tuition-paying students, whether it’s men or women,” she said.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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