By STEVEN NALLEY
In Mississippi University for Women President Jim Borsig’s eyes, there are two kinds of economic impact MUW has on Columbus, Lowndes County and the Golden Triangle.
First, economic impact appears in money MUW pumps into the region, Borsig said while citing several examples. He said MUW directly and indirectly supports 1,095 jobs in the region, including the 500 people it directly employs, generating nearly $40 million in total earned income.
“I’m proud of the economic impact of the university, I’m proud of the jobs that we support (and) I’m proud of the investment we make in the community, but that is by far and away not the most important measure of why we exist,” Borsig said. “The most important measures of why we exist are those 3,200 students on this campus that have this college degree that’s going to change their lives and the lives of their families forever. This is the economic impact I really want to talk to you about.”
Borsig discussed the importance of this second type of economic impact, the changing face of MUW’s enrollment and a few plans for MUW’s future at a breakfast meeting of the Town and Tower Club Tuesday at MUW.
Borsig said the last 20 years have seen many people in power decide college degrees benefit the individuals who receive them, but not society as a whole. States across the country have decreased financial support for higher education as a result of this mentality, he said, leading tuition to rise.
Borsig said this mentality needs to be re-evaluated because research shows college graduates have better health, are less reliant on government programs and are likelier to volunteer, vote and read to their children at a young age. College graduates also earn an average of 66 percent more than typical high school graduates, he said.
“The calculation is, for every dollar the state of Mississippi invests in a college campus, our graduates return $2.13 back to the state,” Borsig said. “That’s not a bad rate of return. That’s a calculation that was made back in 2006.”
College degrees are also important for maintaining America’s global standing, Borsig said. While American universities still lead the world, other countries are now outpacing America in their proportions of citizens between 25-34 years old who have post-secondary degrees.
“What we’re seeing is the United States slipping ... down into the middle of the pack,” Borsig said. “The world is becoming a much better-educated place. We’re still doing about the same as we’ve always done, (and) there are other countries above us that are doing a lot better at educating their population. I wanted to point out to you that what we do on this college campus and every college campus is pretty critical to our competitiveness as a nation.”
Borsig said MUW’s own full-time enrollment has grown 19 percent between 2007 and 2011, and the number of bachelor’s degrees MUW has awarded has grown 57 percent in the same time frame. He also said the demographics of those students are changing in a way that shows the niche MUW fills in a region that also has Mississippi State University and East Mississippi Community College.
“In 2007, our new students were 57 percent transfers. In 2011, our new students were 72 percent transfers,” Borsig said. “We’re seeing a shift to where more of the new students who come to us are transfer students than freshmen. The average age of students on this campus is 26.7 years. We’re not the only university that’s seeing this pattern of recruiting community college transfers as enthusiastically as we once recruited freshmen.”
More students are also taking courses where at least 50 percent of the content is delivered online, Borsig said. In the 2007-2008 academic year, he said, only 6 percent of MUW’s semester hours were taught online, but as of 2011-2012, online semester hours increased to 43 percent.
Plans for MUW’s future include using more digital technology to market MUW to the Internet generation, Borsig said. He also wants to investigate options for intercollegiate athletics at MUW, he said.
“I expect we’re going to come to the conclusion we should do a self-study and hopefully be able to release the results on time by the Spring of 2013 with a plan to support a return to intercollegiate athletics on this campus,” Borsig said. “(It will be) different, probably, than what it was in the past, but still a return to intercollegiate activities.”
Borsig said it was also important for more alumni to contribute to the university, and he asked the Town and Tower Club’s alumni to contribute regularly.
He said he also wanted to instill current MUW students with a desire to give back to MUW in the future.
“The day they walk on this campus at Welcome Week, that’s when you start creating (alumni), and that’s when you start creating people who end up giving to the institution,” Borsig said. “We are primarily funded by student tuition; state funding is second. We’ve got to meet (students’) needs, because they’re our chief investor.”
Gail Laws, a member of the Town and Tower Club’s steering committee and former president of MUW’s alumni association, said she liked Borsig’s presentation. She said she believes in Borsig’s ability to carry MUW forward.
“A lot of people throw out numbers, but he really knows what to do with them,” Laws said. “I think he understands the trends and how (they are) applicable to us.”
Sid Caradine, president of the Town and Tower Club, said he found Borsig’s presentation inspiring.
“All the percentages and all the increases, it really makes us proud,” Caradine said. “Robert Frost said it best: ‘I am not a teacher, but an awakener.’ (Borsig has) awakened me this morning.”