More than 40 years after going coeducational, Mississippi University for Women will ask lawmakers this session to approve a new name: Wynbridge State University of Mississippi. 

President Nora Miller asked the university community to support the new name Tuesday during a presentation in front of the university’s historic Poindexter Hall. It comes out of a multi-year process that saw the university engage a consulting group, conduct listening sessions and surveys, propose a name that flopped, apologize to alumni who felt excluded, then pivot to keeping “The W” brand it had decided to move away from. 

“After all, it is ‘the W’ that bridges us all together,” Miller said to cheers. 

Read more: ‘Mississippi University for Women is betting its future on a new name. Will it work?’

The word “Wynbridge” is a portmanteau of an Old English rune for the letter “W” and the word “bridge,” which is meant to symbolize the university’s relationship to its history, Miller said. Though the new name is similar to ideas proposed by Chernoff Newman, the consulting group, it was created by alumni and faculty. 

In Jackson, Sen. Charles Younger, R-Columbus, told Mississippi Today he filed a bill Tuesday to open the code sections pertaining to the university’s name. In the House, Rep. Kabir Karriem, D-Columbus, said he will co-sponsor a bill next week with the chair of the Colleges and Universities committee to support the university’s desired new name.

Younger said he likes Wynbridge State University of Mississippi compared to two other options the univeristy had floated — Wynbright and Welbright — and that the new name will support the university’s efforts to grow its male athletic teams. 

“This is gonna make things better for the W,” he said.

Karriem said he thought the proposed name has a stately and literary quality that he feels everyone can get behind.

“Hopefully this will bring a new light to the W and increase enrollment,” he said.

If lawmakers approve the bill, the university’s new name would be effective July 1. The Commercial Dispatch reported MUW has budgeted $500,000 “for recruiting, advertising and marketing to prospective students.” 

During the presentation, Keith Gaskin, the mayor of Columbus, said the new name is for the betterment of the university and his town and that he will be calling lawmakers to ask them to support Wynbridge State University of Mississippi. 

“They have my unwavering support,” he said. 

Samuel Garrie, the student government association president, said the new name demonstrates the university’s forward-looking approach. 

The university was founded as the Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls.

Laverne Greene-Leech, who was one of five Black students to integrate the university in 1966 when it was known as Mississippi State College for Women, said each of the past four names have symbolized progress.  

“The mission did not change, the building did not change, just the name,” Greene-Leech said. “Change brings about progress, progress brings about change.” 

MUW’s push for a new name is just one way the regional college is attempting to reposition itself to meet an uncertain moment for higher education in Mississippi while maintaining its mission to provide educational opportunities for women. 

The number of high school graduates — and the rate at which they pursue higher education — is poised to fall, which will force increased competition among the state’s community colleges and universities. As a result of declining enrollment, tuition dollars will drop. 

This demographic reality, called the “enrollment cliff,” will be tougher on regionals like MUW. In the last 10 years, enrollment has fallen from 2,366 to 1,933 in fall 2022, according to federal data. Since 2019, the tuition-dependent university has seen its operating deficit outpace state appropriations and its total cash flow dip into the red.

Lawmakers, aware of this shaky outlook, held a hearing on the enrollment cliff last month.

Higher education reporter at Mississippi Today in partnership with Open Campus.