Thursday, the universities – only about 25 miles apart – signed a memorandum of agreement that allows their students to earn both an MSU bachelor’s degree and an MUW nursing degree.
The two universities also agreed on a joint culinology degree, which was approved Thursday by the state College Board at its regular monthly meeting.
“All students who opt to enter the new interdisciplinary pre-nursing track at Mississippi State and satisfy the requirements of the MUW bachelor of science in nursing program will hold degrees from both institutions,” explained Dr. Mark Keenum, MSU’s president.
He said the agreement presents new opportunities for students enrolled at each school and creates programming strengths through collaboration.
The new degree program created from the two merged academic areas becomes one of only 12 in the nation.
Both schools’ presidents discounted the action as anything but a way to deal with touch economic times.
“This arrangement simply involves one university helping another during extraordinary times,” said Keenum. “IHL Commissioner Hank Bounds and IHL Board members asked us to reach out to a sister institution, and we have agreed to do that.”
Dr. Claudia Limbert, MUW’s president, says the decisions comes as the Columbus-based school’s bid for a new name was rejected by the Legislature, as was Gov. Haley Barbour’s controversial proposal that the schools merge as part of his budget plan.
Limbert had expressed hopes a new name could boost efforts for a more successful future at the school, which went coed in 1982.
“This is not a merger,” she said in an e-mail statement. “Our academic integrity will remain intact and MUW will retain budgetary authority for any operations consolidated with MSU. The outcome will be eight institutions and for MUW to be a viable, separate, stand-alone institution and poised for growth.”
The next step, Limbert said, is for MUW and MSU to select coordinators to develop teams to review the two schools’ operations, budgets and programs.
The College Board met with presidents Thursday in Jackson.
A few months ago, Limbert announced she will retire at the end of her contract this year. The announcement prompted speculation the schools or their administrations could merge for financial reasons. MUW has about 2,400 students compared to MSU’s near 19,000.
Limbert insists there’s no plan to close MUW and the school will remain a separate institution.
Keenum says he hopes that by sharing back-office resources, they will achieve efficiencies and “allow MUW to continue to play a vital role in the higher education system in our state.”
All eight of the state’s public universities are affected by sharp revenue cutbacks forced by the state’s declining revenues.
Keenum noted that MSU faces its own budget challenges and has been focused on meeting them, including development of cost-saving recommendations released Wednesday.
“But if we can work with MUW on functions to achieve savings that will help MUW through a difficult period, we are willing to do so,” he said.
The two public institutions also plan to explore collaborations on a number of certificate programs that would allow cross-enrollment of their students, depending on which campus teaches the specific subject.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.