February 27, 2013

Community College Capitol Day shines spotlight on funding needs

With 68 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…
BY: Cathy Hayden

With 68 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.

Community college faculty and students from across the state will meet with their area legislators Thursday, Feb. 28 to share the message that community colleges are a good value for students and families and a solid investment for the state. A news conference will be held at 9:30 a.m. in the second floor rotunda of the Capitol. The event is being sponsored by the Mississippi Faculty Association for Community and Junior Colleges (MFACJC).

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.

“State leaders in both the House and Senate have made an earnest effort to help us regain that lost ground,” said Dr. Clyde Muse, president of Hinds Community College. “We are hopeful that this year will bring us a little closer to Mid-Level funding.”

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.

“In 2012, 60 percent of Mississippi university graduates previously attended a community college,” said Dr. William Lewis, president of Pearl River Community College and chair of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges.

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.

“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.

Among the speakers at the Thursday news conference will be Doug Donohue, president of the 900-member Mississippi Faculty Association for Community and Junior Colleges, which hosts the annual Capitol Day event. Donohue is an instructor at Pearl River Community College.

“We are 15 colleges, speaking with one voice for our students,” Donahue said. “We are concerned that our colleges continue to have the resources to offer quality instruction, industry-standard learning environments and facilities that support both.”

They 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 57.4 percent while state support per student has declined by 26.4 percent.

The faculty association will be joined at the Capitol by Student VOICES, a student-led advocacy group that encourages students to be civically engaged. Topping student concerns is the cost of a college education.

Representing students at the news conference will be Brenda Tyler, who worked at Delphi Packard in Clinton for 21 years. When the plant closed and sent jobs to Mexico, she realized a high school diploma wasn’t enough to land a living-wage job. At the age of 45, she took her severance package and enrolled in the Business Office Technology program at Hinds Community College.  Earlier this month, she was recognized as the top student in the program at the Jackson Campus – Academic/Technical Center and will graduate in May.

“Because of my training, I’ve been offered an opportunity with one of the top companies here in Mississippi. As a result of my matriculation at Hinds, I have two choices – I can either accept gainful employment with this organization or pursue a higher education. Because of the Mississippi community college system, I am now prepared to pursue future opportunities,” she said.

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.