Legislators voice support for Mississippi’s 15 community colleges

In remarks to students, faculty and other supporters of the 15 community colleges gathered at the Capitol Rotunda in Jackson on February 25, key legislators voiced support for the colleges and their efforts to achieve mid-level funding.  In 2007, legislators promised to fund the colleges at the mid-level point, which is per-student funding halfway between K-12 education and the regional public universities. However, the community colleges are only getting 52 percent of those promised funds.  The colleges are seeking to regain the ground they lost since the legislation was passed.

Dr. Johnny Allen, vice president of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges and president of Northeast Community College, said the money is there this year for the legislators to appropriate money toward mid-level funding.

“We want to make sure we have the means to support our students with quality faculty not only today but in the future; to provide access to quality higher education through the lowest possible tuition costs; and the means to employ modern technology to make sure we have the tools to do the teaching job,” Allen said. “We believe that the means are there. We are calling on the members of the Legislature to make sure we preserve one of the most outstanding aspects of public education. “

With 64 percent of all freshmen as their students, Mississippi’s 15 community colleges play a key role in our state’s higher-education system that leads to a more educated populace and a trained workforce. Mississippi community colleges enroll more than 75,000 students, 54 percent of all undergraduates and nearly half of all students taking a credit course.

“Mid-level funding is a means to keep tuition affordable, to recruit and retain quality faculty, and prepare more students for work. It is also simple fairness,” said Dr. Eric Clark, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board.

Using data from FY 2012, the regional public universities were funded at $6,125 per student and public schools were funded at $4,828 per student. Accordingly, community colleges should have been funded at $5,476 per student, but instead received only $3,075 per student.

The Mississippi Faculty Association sponsored the event for Community and Junior Colleges (MFACJC). The faculty associations join college presidents, students, alumni and trustees in asking legislators to support more funding for community colleges. Since fiscal year 2000, community college enrollment has grown 44.7 percent while state support per student has declined by 16.8 percent.

“At Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, we produce a high-quality, affordable college education for the residents of our four-county district,” said Dr. Mary S. Graham, MGCCC president.  “Adequate funding will ensure that we can keep tuition affordable and continue offering outstanding programs.”

About 80 percent of new jobs being developed in the current economy require college-level learning, and, in Mississippi 54 percent of all undergraduates in public institutions are at a community college.

The 15-college system serves nearly 250,000 Mississippians each year in university transfer, career/technical, workforce and adult education programs.

Kathy McAdams is an award-winning journalist who has worked at weekly newspapers in Mississippi and the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala. A native of Gulfport, McAdams attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, William Carey University, the University of South Alabama and The University of Southern Mississippi. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications and journalism and a master's degree in education and English. She has worked at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College since 2005.