Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
JACKSON – Mississippi community college students flooded the State Capitol in Jackson Feb. 28 to ask their legislators to increase financial support for their campuses.
At a morning news conference, state Sen. Terry Burton of Newton told community college supporters that lawmakers appreciate the job the colleges do.
“The best value in education in Mississippi and, I believe, in the world is the Mississippi community and junior college system,” Burton said. “Our continued economic success demands that we provide for you the best funding source that we can from the state. It doesn’t go unnoticed – the accountability, the efficiency and the numbers of people you serve with those funds.
“We’re going to do the very best that we can in funding you.”
Almost 70 percent of all college freshmen in Mississippi are enrolled in a community college. The state’s 15 community colleges play a key role in creating an educated populace and a trained workforce, proponents say.
In 2007, state legislators promised to fund the colleges at the “Mid-Level” point – per-student funding half-way between what K-12 schools and the regional public universities receive. But community college officials have said they are only getting 52 percent of the promised funds.
It will take $73.5 million to regain regain the ground community colleges lost since the legislation passed, community college officials have said.
Using data from FY 2011, the regional public universities were funded at $5,803 per student and public schools were funded at $4,560 per student. So, they argue, doing the math, community colleges should have been funded at $5,182 per student, but instead received only $2,686 per student.
Dr. Rick Young, president of East Mississippi Community College, said Capitol Day is one way to remind lawmakers about the needs of community colleges.
“We appreciate our legislators, and we know they face difficult decisions. But we also know that community colleges are making a difference in the lives of vast numbers of people, traditional students and non-traditional students alike. We are flexible, cost-effective and responsive to the needs of our communities,” Young said.
“It’s also great to see so many community college students taking part in Capitol Day as a part of Student VOICES, a student-led advocacy group that promotes civic engagement. These are the leaders of tomorrow, taking their first steps toward being informed and committed citizens. I applaud them.
Help us … help you
Dr. Eric Clark, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board, said the colleges are life-changers: “I am absolutely certain that the primary institutions … helping folks get off welfare, get out of minimum wage jobs and stay out of jail are our Mississippi community colleges.”
Also among the speakers at the Thursday news conference was Brian Carriere, vice president of the 900-member Mississippi Faculty Association for Community and Junior Colleges, which hosts the annual Capitol Day event.
“We know the legislators see the community colleges as important, that they are the linchpin of the higher education in the state of Mississippi,” said Carriere, a history instructor at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
“We are the greatest bargain in the state of Mississippi. We ask you to reach a little bit deeper in those pockets and help us to help you in the state of Mississippi.”
The state’s 15 community colleges enroll more than 80,000 students a year, including 56 percent of all undergraduates and half of all students, including graduate students, taking a credit course.
Since Fiscal Year 2000, community college enrollment has grown 57.4 percent while state support per student has declined by 26.4 percent.
About 80 percent of new jobs being developed in the current economy require college-level learning, according to some estimates.