Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
JACKSON – Dozens of Mississippi community college students flooded the Capitol in Jackson Thursday (Feb. 28) to ask their legislators to continue their financial support of the 15 colleges.
At a morning news conference, state Sen. Terry Burton of Newton told community college supporters that lawmakers appreciate the job the colleges do.
“It’s important for us to know as legislators that the best value in education in Mississippi and, I believe, in the world is the Mississippi community and junior college system. 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,” Burton said. “We’re going to do the very best that we can in funding you.”
With 68 percent of all freshmen as their students, Mississippi’s 15 community colleges play a key role in the state’s higher education system that leads to a more educated populace and a trained workforce.
In 2007 legislators promised to fund the colleges at the Mid-Level point – per-student funding halfway between K-12 education and the regional public universities – but the community colleges are only getting 52 percent of the promised funds. The colleges are seeking to regain the ground they lost since the legislation was passed and funding was only 28 percent below the Mid-Level target. It will take $73.5 million to make it to that point.
Mid-Level Funding mandates per-student funding for community colleges that is midway between per-student funding for K-12 students and regional public university students. 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. Accordingly, community colleges should have been funded at $5,182 per student, but instead received only $2,686 per student.
Dr. Mary Graham, president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, said the colleges appreciate what legislators have done to help.
“We have many friends in the Legislature who understand the role of the community colleges.
You are doing a tremendous job of supporting us and we appreciate that,” she said. “We are making a difference in economic development. We are making a difference in the lives of so many people. We are giving hope to the next generation. Student are able to attend the community colleges as a traditional student and as an adult student as a way to get into the workforce.”
Dr. Eric Clark, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board, said the colleges are life-changers.
“I am absolutely certain that the primary institution at this point in our history which is helping folks get off welfare, get out of minimum wage jobs and stay out of jail is our Mississippi community colleges,” he said.
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.”
Faculty members were joined by Student VOICES, a student-led advocacy group that encourages students to be civically engaged.
Hinds Community College student Brenda Tyler shared her story of returning to college at age 45 after the plant where she worked closed. She will graduate in May with a degree in Business Office Technology. She has already been offered a job.
“I intend to be in the workforce for another 20 years, and Hinds has equipped me with skills needed for a new career,” Tyler, now 47.
The community colleges enroll more than 80,000 students, 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, and, in Mississippi 58 percent of all undergraduates in public institutions are at a community college.