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MUW seeks new name for the future

By PATSY R. BRUMFIELD

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi University for Women's name

change is an non-debatable point.

Over objections from some alumnae, school president Claudia

Limbert has drawn the line in the sand for changing the name for

the coed school in Columbus. She has looked at marketing research,

at the school's struggle to recruit more students and at the

financial implications of the status quo.

"Our name no longer represents who we are," she told faculty

and staff Aug. 11.

Limbert recently appointed a 30-member committee, which has set

out to find a more relevant name - one that captures "who we are

and who we want to be," one panelist said.

The committee plans to come back Oct. 3 with reports from

subcommittees.

What MUW is doing is not out of the norm. Numerous colleges and

universities have changed their names over the years to more

accurately reflect their mission and market.

A notable example: Florida State University was once Florida

State College for Women.

By 1947, as returning World War II veterans brought men back to

the campus, FSCW went coed and became Florida State University.

Today, nearly 160 years after its founding, FSU boasts a student

population pushing 40,000 and many programs with international

reputations.

Virtually every Mississippi public institution of higher

learning - except for the University of Mississippi at Oxford - has

adjusted its name over the years.

Delta State University was founded in 1924 as Delta State

Teachers College, and in 1955 changed to Delta State College

Mississippi State University was founded in 1862 as Agricultural

and Mechanical College of the State of Mississippi (or Mississippi

A&M), and in 1958 became MSU.

University of Southern Mississippi was founded in 1910 as

Mississippi Normal College. It changed in 1924 to State Teachers

College, in 1940 to Mississippi Southern College and in 1962 to

USM.

MUW, Delta State, Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi

Valley State all became universities in 1974.

For the school commonly known as the "W," indicators abound in

support of a change.

A 2007 study by The Chronicle of Higher Education showed that 97

percent of college-bound women would not consider single-sex

education, and the school's own research shows that 86 percent of

out-of-state students identify MUW as a women's college. Even 50

percent of Mississippi students still identify MUW as a women's

college, even though it began admitting men in the 1980s after a

court said it must.

Memphis' Rhodes College made the change in 1984 - from

Southwestern at Memphis.

"There were many colleges and universities named

Southwestern," said Daney Kepple, Rhodes' director of

communications. "We clearly were not in the Southwest U.S."

The private school's leaders began to look for a name that would

better attract students nationally and internationally, not just

from Tennessee.

They settled on Rhodes, after a former college president.

Like MUW, some of the college's strongest supporters resisted

the change.

"They couldn't get the change into their hearts," Kepple said,

adding the campus bookstore still sells T-shirts and sweat shirts

at homecoming that bear "Southwestern."

However, the change has been good, she said, assessing it as

"99 percent enthusiastically embraced."

As far as enrollment, Southwestern had 1,046 students in 1984.

Today, Rhodes has 1,670.

"Back then, we were a regional institution," Kepple said.

"Today, our students come from all over the country and all over

the world.

Kepple also said she understands MUW's leadership's desire for

change.

"MUW is not just for women anymore," she said. "In some

conditions, you have no choice but to change."

Founded nearly 180 years ago, the University of North Alabama

anchors the education scene at Florence. Many of the region's

residents recall that before 1974, it was Florence State College.

Josh Woods, UNA communications director, said its name now

accurately reflects what the school is - a comprehensive, four-year

regional university.

UNA also marked its sixth consecutive year of growth in 2007,

with some 7,100 undergraduates enrolled for the fall.

Cynthia Shackleford, a 1974 MUW graduate, knows what a name

change can do for growth. She is public relations director for the

University of Montevallo in the state of Alabama.

U of M, in the city of Montevallo, began its life in 1886 as

Alabama Girls' Industrial School, then added "and College for

Women" in 1919. Four years later it became Alabama College, State

College for Women.

It went coeducational in 1956, after years of declining

enrollment, and the Alabama Legislature dropped the designation

"State College for Women."

"Growth was very noticeable" after men were admitted,

Shackleford said, and the school's fortunes turned around.

She thinks MUW's name change is warranted, something she says

"with the very best in my heart" for her alma mater.

Shackleford sees a parallel for MUW.

In 1969, Alabama College became the University of Montevallo, as

a tribute to its host city, which supported it so strongly from its

inception.

Shackleford thinks MUW's Naming Committee should consider a new

name identifiable with its location - Columbus University or the

University of Columbus - although there's already a Columbus

University in Panama and one offering online and correspondence

degrees, and a Columbus State University in Georgia.

The locale approach has been good for her current employer.

Enrollment is up 8 percent this fall to more than 3,000, she said.

MUW's best enrollment year was 1998 with 3,314 students. Last

year it was about 2,400, reflecting a 15.3 percent growth since

fall 2003.

MUW's enrollment was well behind Mississippi State at 16,238 and

the University of Mississippi with 13,910.

MUW also feels strong competition from powerhouse University of

Alabama, to the east in Tuscaloosa, and regional community colleges

and university satellite campuses.

By comparison, recent reports show 6,769 students are enrolled

at the Fulton-based Itawamba Community College, which has campuses

in Fulton and Tupelo and serves Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Chickasaw

and Pontotoc counties.

The school's 2008 enrollment plan sets goals to re-establish

itself within the higher education community and reach 3,000 by

2010.

---

Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal,

http://www.djournal.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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