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The W at Mississippi State could become a reality if Senate bill becomes law

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

  • A separate University System Efficiency Task Force could be created to examine the efficiency of the Mississippi public university system.

With the death of SB 2726, which proposed to close three institutions of higher learning, another bill, SB 2715, passed out of committee Tuesday that proposes to put The W, formerly known as the Mississippi University for Women, under the umbrella of Mississippi State University, effectively still reducing the number of universities if it becomes law. 

State Senator John Polk (R) asked during the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee meeting Monday if his bill was effectively dead after the committee chair, State Senator Nicole Boyd (R), introduced legislation in SB 2725 to create a University Efficiency Task Force. Its aim is also to address the ongoing enrollment cliff the state is facing.

“This would give us an opportunity to look at this over the summer with the task force,” Boyd said. 

The task force would be comprised of the chairs of several committees related to higher learning, appropriations leaders from both legislative bodies, and appointees from the Governor’s office, ensuring the regional and historically black universities are represented, to name a few. 

The focus of the task force will be to examine the existing and developing plans of universities to address shifts in enrollment declines. Assistance from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) and other entities would be a part of the effort.

When asked, Sen. Boyd stated that her bill is not associated with Sen. Polk’s proposed legislation to close three universities, prompting Polk to clarify the longevity of his bill. 

The Senate Education Committee took up a bill that proposes moving The W under the umbrella of Mississippi State University was passed out of committee with an amendment Tuesday. (Photo by Jeremy Pittari | Magnolia Tribune.)

“Just for clarification and to end the conversation, I’m assuming that this bill, if we pass it, will go forward and your intention is not to bring the bill that I introduced out. Is that correct?” Sen John Polk asked during Monday’s committee meeting. 

“Yes, Senator Polk, that is correct,” Boyd responded.

“Please everyone get that message out, the chair has killed my bill, don’t study it. And that way I can sleep tonight,” Polk said. 

Now, SB 2715 is expected to move forward. It initially proposed to close the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science at its current location and move it to the campus of Mississippi State University. 

As a prestigious residential public high school, the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science provides gifted and talented students in the Magnolia State with a curriculum focused on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It operates on the campus of The W but is part of the Mississippi Department of Education, not IHL.

Tuesday, a committee substitute to SB 2715 passed out of the Senate’s Education Committee. It changed the bill to keep the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science where it is while placing The W under the umbrella of Mississippi State. Both facilities would continue to operate at their current Columbus campus.

“As you know, The W has been having declining enrollment for the last 10 years. We’re down to about 2,200 students enrolled there. The Math and Science school has had issues. They have requested an appropriation of nearly $90 million to upgrade their facilities. There’s been bills filed which I believe are dead now to consolidate universities,” said Senate Education Chair Dennis Debar (R). “But this, in my opinion will go ahead and strengthen the institution there in Columbus, strengthen the math and science school and strengthen education that our students will receive at these facilities.”

As part of the proposed change, if the bill becomes law, The W will become part of MSU as of July of this year and operate under the new name “The W at Mississippi State University.” IHL will be tasked with developing a plan to transfer assets from The W to MSU and ensure that all records and funds are properly moved. 

Sen. DeBar clarified that the intent of making the transfer is to keep the legacy of The W alive and help both The W and MSU become more successful. 

Whether the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science will be moved to another campus at some later date would be up to the administration at MSU. Sen. DeBar added that the high school currently has 240 students enrolled.

“This is something we’ve thought about a lot. It’s something, that, I’ll be honest I have not spoken to Dr. (Mark) Keenum (president of MSU) about this. So, this is something the Legislature, we have discussed this, and I think it’s going to protect the facility in Columbus. It’s going to protect the math and science school and I think it’s going to provide an opportunity for growth of both of these institutions for the years to come,” BeBar described.

Senator Polk asked during Tuesday’s committee meeting if there would be any cost savings from the change but DeBar said a cost assessment is not available at this time. However, there are issues with the dorms and some office spaces, as reflected in the $90 million appropriation request by the Math and Science school. Sen. DeBar did add that cost savings could be seen as part of the consolidation but that will be something for Dr. Keenum to review.

The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science would remain under the Department of Education and still receive a separate funding appropriation from the state. 

SB 2715 and SB 2725 passed out of committee.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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