There's a new path for a college degree through the partnership between the University of Mississippi and Northwest Mississippi Community College.

Officials with both schools announced the start of what is called Path4, what they say will offer a seamless four-year college experience. It will also offer an expanded list of services for students, including financial aid that can be taken advantage of at both schools.

It's also a new step forward for the schools. The University of Mississippi and Northwest Mississippi Community College at one time offered classes inside what is now the Southaven City Hall building and now share space at the DeSoto Center on W.E. Ross Parkway in Southaven.

"What we have done through this program is to be able to break down some barriers," said Northwest President Dr. Michael Heindl. "One of the barriers we saw was that students were having issues with financial aid and being able to get from both institutions at the same time. One of the things that the Path4 initiative does is to break down that barrier so that students can get that financial aid and attend both institutions, which is great."

Part of the ceremony recently held to announce and launch the program was the signing of a financial aid consortium agreement that makes it possible for a student to receive federal funds for tuition at both institutions during the same semester while he or she is working toward a degree. Heindl and Ole Miss interim chancellor Larry Sparks both signed the agreement.

Up until now, students could use their federal financial aid only at one institution at a time. Toward the end of their sophomore or early junior year, many DeSoto Center students may be dual-enrolled at both Northwest and Ole Miss.

The DeSoto Center already has a program called 2+2 but Plus4 is meant for those students who are invested in the community and want to stay in DeSoto County while completing their college education, officials said.

The Path4 initiative was developed by Ole Miss and Northwest faculty and staff members looking to give local students a more streamlined journey to a college education as well as a college experience.

“Many students choose Northwest and Ole Miss to stay in DeSoto County and continue on in their chosen career pathway toward success," Heindl said.

Selling points of the program also include a simplified admissions process and coordinated advising to ensure a smooth path to graduation.

New scholarship opportunities will be available for students, as well as joint student services such as clubs and organizations that all students can take advantage of to gain professional experience and enhance their job opportunities.

"I think the important parts of this program are for the citizens of DeSoto County, those that are place-bound and would like to pursue higher education and continue beyond an associate's degree into the bachelor's degree," Sparks said. "You no longer need to leave this area. You're actually dealing with both of us."

At the end of the program, as a Path 4 student, students obtain NWCC associate and Ole Miss bachelor degrees with the opportunity to pursue graduate degrees in the future.

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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