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"Our name no longer represents who we are," she told faculty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
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
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
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
They settled on Rhodes, after a former college president.
Like MUW, some of the college's strongest supporters resisted
"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
Kepple also said she understands MUW's leadership's desire for
"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
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
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
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
Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal,