More per-student (FTE) funding for community colleges in Mississippi, faculty raises and capital improvements top the list of community college needs, Hinds President Dr. Clyde Muse told legislators who attended the annual District Legislative Luncheon on Nov. 21.
Muse emphasized the three main priorities in two-year colleges’ $245.9 million request of lawmakers for FY 2021. “This will enable us to keep our tuition down where students can afford to come to school. The increase in tuition has been significantly more than the increase in funding on the state or local level.”
Since 2017, tuition and required fees at Mississippi’s community colleges has increased by nearly 19 percent.
Another $10 million for employee salary increases is another piece of keeping the college viable for attracting the best available talent to instruct students and work in other college departments. He stressed the continuing need for those salaries to be roughly between the present level and that of instructors in K-12 education. Figures showed the current annual salary level off that target by more than 18 percent, or about $9,500.
“Community colleges now are not competitive with the salaries of K-12 education,” he said. “It should be somewhere in between those two. We call that midlevel funding. It’ll be a major part of our effort this year to make sure we do that. It’s getting almost impossible to employ and keep high-quality people in our community colleges.”
The program also included for video faculty interviews, which were created in the Center for Teaching and Learning.
Sherry Franklin, vice president for the Utica Campus, and Dr. Chad Stocks, vice president for Workforce Development, and touted successes of career and technical education, in particular the partnerships between the college and industry. Franklin pointed to a current enrollment of 887 in CTE dual enrollment at the college’s five locations. Stocks informed lawmakers CTE is a growing part of the overall student population at Hinds, at 37 percent.
Students Tabatha Lalonek, a Business and Office Technology student and product of the MIBEST program, and Redford Lowery, an Honors Program student who plans to study Veterinary Technology, helped drive home the importance of community colleges to the workforce and the state’s economy.
After a serious car accident, Lalonek dropped out of high school and later struggled with drug addiction. She returned home to take care of her mother, who was battling cancer. During that time, she searched for a path to improve her life situation and discovered the Hinds MIBEST program. MIBEST allows students without high school diplomas to earn one and learn job skills at the same time. The Vicksburg native has drug-free for six years, works in the Vicksburg-Warren Campus bookstore, has a 3.8 GPA and plans to graduates in May 2020 with three credentials.
“I’m thankful for the MIBEST program for taking a chance on me,” Lalonek said. “They were the life-changing opportunity I needed at that time in my life and still today. Hinds and the MIBEST program were the foundation to get me on my feet.”
Lowery, a Baton Rouge, La. native, moved to the Eagle Lake community north of Vicksburg with her family four years ago. She said was forced to change her college plans when her family faced “serious losses” in last year’s devastating flood along the Mississippi River.
“One of the best things about Hinds is that it’s affordable,” Lowery told lawmakers. “Though my family faces losses last summer, I didn’t have to worry about college because of Hinds’ scholarships. I encourage you to continue to support by increasing legislative funding that will keep education affordable and accessible.”
This year’s program’s industry voice was Stirlin Hancock, vice president of human resources at Golding Barge Line. The Vicksburg-based barge company is part of a consortium of firms that do business on the river and have benefited from the deckhand training program at the Vicksburg-Warren Campus. A next step of growth in the program, Hancock said, is to offer more specialized tankerman training.
Hancock said the program has produced 393 entry-level workers for the company since its inception in 2013 and touted the earnings potential of careers on the river. Deckhands take part in a 12-hour training regimen for seven days, after which they can make about $36,000 annually and can advance to tankerman positions that can earn about $72,000 a year.
“Currently, we’re training our tankermen outside the state of Mississippi,” Hancock said. “What we’re trying to do now is train them here. What we’ll need next is industry-trained instructors.”
Colleen Hartfield, executive assistant to the president for special projects, coordinates the annual function. “Our primary goal is to help legislators understand how their support makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our students, our employees and the communities in our district,” she said.