Mississippi University for Women urges legislators to keep the school open

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Leaders and alumni of Mississippi University for Women rallied Tuesday at the state Capitol, urging legislators to kill a bill that would make the school a branch of nearby Mississippi State University.

“Not everyone belongs in a big-box university,” MUW President Nora Miller said. “We really grow leaders. We have students who flourish with the extra attention and the leadership opportunities that are open to them on a small campus.”

The rally happened the same day that a divided state Senate advanced a separate bill that would create a group to study whether Mississippi should close some of its eight universities — a proposal that is most likely to target schools with lower enrollment, including possibly MUW.

In the Republican-controlled chamber, 12 Democrats voted against creating a study group amid concerns that closures would limit opportunities for higher education and hurt the communities where universities are located.

Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory, one of the opponents, said he has heard “profoundly disturbing” discussion about the purpose of universities, including that they should exist solely for job training rather than for offering a rounded education to help people understand complexities of the world.

Bryan also said closing campuses could discourage out-of-state students from seeking education in Mississippi, including those who would remain in the state or become donors to their alma mater. He also said closures could hurt the economy of college towns.

“We don’t write on a clean slate,” Bryan said.

Senate Universities and Colleges Committee Chairwoman Nicole Boyd, a Republican from Oxford, said most universities are growing and thriving, but some are not.

“This is the time that we step up and do something about it and look at how we move our state forward in regards to our higher education,” Boyd said.

Boyd’s committee last week killed a bill that would have required the state to close three universities by 2028. The bill caused concern among students and alumni of Mississippi’s three historically Black universities, but senators said schools with the smallest enrollment would have been the most vulnerable: Mississippi Valley State, which is historically Black, as well as Delta State University and Mississippi University for Women, which are predominantly white.

The study committee that passed the Senate on Tuesday was a compromise. The bill will move to the House for more work.

The bill to merge MUW into Mississippi State awaits debate.

MUW has also enrolled men since 1982, and about about 22% of the current 2,230 students are male. University leaders say having “women” in the name complicates recruiting, and they proposed two new names this year — Mississippi Brightwell University and Wynbridge State University of Mississippi. They recently paused the rebranding effort after receiving sharp criticism from some graduates.

A 1983 MUW graduate, Sylvia Starr of Memphis, Tennessee, said Tuesday that attending the small university gave her “a fantastic education” and the ability to lead.

“The women I went to school with, I’m still very close with,” Starr said. “Many of them are here today. We have each other’s back, still, as we’ve matured and grown.”