Pell Grant ‘lifeblood’ of Hinds CC, other Mississippi community colleges

Dr. Stephen G. Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama, set the stage for the opening of the spring 2013 semester at Hinds Community College with an in-depth report on the impact of Summer 2012 federal Pell Grant restrictions at the state’s community colleges, and Hinds in particular.

“It’s the lifeblood of America’s community colleges,” Katsinas told Hinds faculty and administrators. “It should not surprise any of you that there is a relationship in Pell funding and enrollments at U.S. community colleges. Pell Grant is the de facto state student aid program in Mississippi. As the recession has deepened and lengthened more of your total student body is on Pell today than they were four years ago.”

Students at Mississippi’s 15 community colleges are being hit hard by Summer 2012 changes in the federal Pell Grant and will be hit harder in coming months, with many losing crucial dollars they need to attend college, according to Katsinas, who has studied the impact of the federal dollars in Mississippi.

“The statistics (shared by Katsinas) put into perspective how many students we have on financial aid and the importance of Pell in moving them out of poverty,” said Chelia Woodfork-Thompson, administrative coordinator and workforce project coordinator, Jackson Campus-Nursing/Allied Health Center. “I believe federal aid is a part of economic development. With it, students are able to move into paying into a tax base and contributing back to society.”

For many low-income students, Pell Grant status determines whether or not they can attend college for crucial job training or academic skills that lead to good, living wage jobs.

Michal Phillips of Jackson, who is in the associate degree nursing program at Jackson Campus-Nursing/Allied Health Center, and her sisters worked jobs throughout high school to help her family pay the bills. She never thought she’d be able to afford a

college education – until she received a Pell Grant.

“There would have been no other way for me to further my education,” she said. “But now I am on my way to making a better life for myself.”

Hinds President Dr. Clyde Muse and other community college presidents and trustees are traveling to Washington D.C. this month to ask Mississippi congressmen to protect the Pell Grant program from further cuts as Congress debates the U.S. budget deficit and debt.

“The Pell Grant is critical to assuring access to higher education, specifically in Mississippi,” Muse said.

Pell Grant for both students and the colleges becomes more important as state funds have not increased to meet the funding need. The colleges are only halfway to achieving state Mid-Level Funding, which was promised in 2007 legislation. Senate Bill 2364 provided that community colleges would be funded on a per-student basis at an amount that is midway between the per-student state funding for a K-12 and regional public university student.

“Though the Pell Grant program is federally funded, cuts in the program have a significant impact in Mississippi,” Muse said. “Ultimately, Pell Grants are the single, most important financial aid resource for the majority of community college students in Mississippi.”