MUW President Nora Miller: ‘Shocked… I’m hoping we can kill it.’

"We may not always disagree on what is the best thing to do, like the name change. But we all agree we love this institution."

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Most of the Mississippi University for Women administration, its supporters, and alumni are still in shock over Senate Bill 2715.

President Nora Miller has one goal: to kill the bill and save the 140-year-old institution.

She sat down with WCBI to talk about how she learned about the measure, what’s happening on the legislation, and future plans.

MUW President Nora Miller was giving blood and live streaming the state Senate Education Committee hearing when she first learned lawmakers wanted to put her school under Mississippi State University’s control.

After the shock wore off, the emotions set in.

“It is frustrating that this was dropped up without any consultation with the parties involved. It’s concerning and maybe a little bit of anger that we have 400 employees here on this campus who are invested in The W and who looked to me for what the heck is going on. And I don’t know. And then a sense of loss for future students,” said Miller.

Miller is under no illusion the eight-page piece of legislation was created overnight. After two attempts to change the university’s name, which ended with a clash with alumni that exposed the school’s weaknesses, with lawmakers stuck in the middle, it created an easy target at the state Capitol.

“It may have. I think there’s kind of a perfect storm of PERS and trying to find ways to find that possible Medicaid expansion or increased health care and the cost of that. I think the attention on the upcoming enrollment cliff that is going to be impacting all universities across the country. I think that also Senator Polk’s bill, which was to direct the closing of three institutions. There’s just a lot going on and we were vulnerable,” said Miller.

MUW’s enrollment was mentioned several times by lawmakers. It has gone down and struggled in the past 10 years. Flagship universities across the country are booming with enrollment, while regional universities are suffering. Miller also said free community college tuition, fewer students to recruit, a smaller recruiting budget, and the need for more recruiters are not helping the school’s freshman enrollment.

However, she sees progress through technology and programs that are helping the school find students and keep in touch with them through the admissions process.

“We are trying to use our resources wisely. We are using a lot of social media to reach out that is tailored to the demographics. We are looking for sometimes people will say ‘I don’t see anything on my Facebook.’ But if you’re a 60-year-old woman you are probably not going to be seeing the ads that are tailored to the 18 to 25-year-old demographic,” said Miller.

“I don’t feel as nervous about the enrollment cliff as long as we are seeing progress like we are seeing it right now. We will continue to rely on state support to help out and to help maintain and renovate our buildings. So, it’s a concern, but I think we are taking steps. And I see as we move forward and positions become vacant, we’re going to have to take a hard look at making sure those are actually needed,” said Miller.

Miller is also addressing the conditions of facilities at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, which has been on campus for over three decades.

“Our contract agreement with MSMS and the Mississippi State Department of Education states that any major renovations or improvements will be funded by MSMS or by MSMS through MDE. And that hasn’t been forthcoming in 35 years,” said Miller.

Miller, a “W” graduate, sees issues in academia and accreditation. MUW also looked at combining some resources with Mississippi State 15 years ago.

“We can’t be a regional university and be a part of an R1 Land grant institution. So, I don’t don’t see how that really works,” said Miller. “It would require so many modifications, and it would be a significant investment for us to be in their model. And so, I don’t see where there would be many cost savings.”

While the name change controversy is raw, Miller believes the school’s graduate base is uniting.

“We may not always disagree on what is the best thing to do, like the name change. But we all agree we love this institution. And we want what we think is best for this institution. And I think this committee substitute may be bringing our alumni together in a unified base because we know we want to continue being The W,” said Miller.

The state Senate has not voted on the legislation better known as Senate Bill 2715.

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