JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves lent their voices in support of Mississippi’s 15 community colleges and their role in providing workforce training throughout the state.
Bryant repeated his desire to use $50 million in funds from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to help fund workforce training. Bryant noted that the state has “great opportunities … to train the workforce of the future in the community colleges across this great state. I’ve asked the Legislature to help us,” he said. “Those funds can go to the community colleges directly to help train the workforce of the future. We understand there is no better place to invest that $50 million than the community college workforce program.”
Bryant is a graduate of Hinds Community College who was working changing tires when he got a postcard inviting him to come to Hinds. “I got in my 1955 Chevy and drove to Raymond. The next day I was a college student,” he said. “Hinds Community College and colleges all over the state in the 1970s and today open the door for higher education to a blue-collar generation that that would have never been able to achieve success without a community or junior college. And it goes on today.”
Like Bryant, Reeves touted the quality of the colleges. “The fact is our tremendous community college system in Mississippi puts us at a competitive advantage compared to many other states when trying to recruit business and industry to our state,” he said. “This system also puts us at a competitive advantage because of all the work they do on workforce development to provide the skills necessary not for the jobs of 50 years ago but for the jobs of the next 50 years.”
In August, WalletHub, a financial analyst company for small business and consumers, gave Mississippi’s community colleges the top national ranking for cost, classroom experience and education/career outcomes. And out of the 150 colleges nationally eligible to compete for the prestigious 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which highlights the critical importance of improving student success in America’s community colleges, seven of them are in Mississippi. Last month, a report on the success of community college transfer students earned Mississippi a sixth in the nation ranking for the number of community college students who transfer to a university and fourth in the nation for the percentage of low income community college students who transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree.
“Once again Mississippi’s community and junior colleges rank high in the nation. For more than a century our two-year schools have provided a trained workforce for Mississippi’s expanding economy, as well as a great place for students of all ages and backgrounds to begin their pursuit of a baccalaureate degree,” said Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College instructor Brian Carriere, president of the 1,000-plus member MFACJC. “With continued support from our Legislature, Mississippi’s community and junior colleges will continue to provide a great return on investment for our students, citizens and state.”
Dr. Jesse Smith, president of Jones County Junior College and chair of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC), was also among those speaking.
“A recent study notes that each dollar invested in Mississippi Community Colleges yields a return of $4.86 in tax revenue over a student’s working lifetime,” Smith said. “Mississippi’s No. 1 nationally ranked community college system is the only government investment that yields back to both the student and the state. Decreased investment from the state leads to increased tuition costs and less educational attainment for the citizens of our state.”
“Each of the 15 community colleges in Mississippi strives to keep tuition low and affordable, without sacrificing the level of qualified faculty in the classroom,” he said.
Two community college students shared their experiences.
Jessica Culpepper, an early childhood development major, said Meridian Community College was a good choice for her.
“It’s cheaper on me and my parents. I live at home. I sleep in my own bed. It gives me an opportunity to get a feel for what I really want to do for the rest of my working life,” said Culpepper, who said she has dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder.
Tyler Abney said he chose Pearl River Community College because “coming from a low income family, I knew that college would be nothing but a dream if I could not find enough scholarship money. It was either scholarships or pay student loans the rest of my life — and I didn’t see that as an option. However, I was able to work hard enough to be awarded an education at Pearl River Community College.”
Dr. Andrea Mayfield, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board, said the students’ inspiring stories wouldn’t be possible without funding from the state Legislature.
“With appropriate legislative support our community colleges will continue to create the very best workforce training and education programs in the country,” she said. “Our system is the best. It is the best at providing career and working opportunities for the people of our great state. It is essential that we do everything that we can everything in terms of legislative power to keep Mississippi first in education. Our system needs the money to develop our workforce and career-technical opportunities and we need your support.”
While community colleges have had much success in Mississippi, they’ve had to do it with lean funding. The community colleges are asking for “fair and equitable funding” in comparison to their K-12 and university counterparts.
The colleges are focusing their efforts on demonstrating their value and return on investment.
Community College leaders are asking for about $83 million to keep tuition costs down, produce more graduates and skilled workers, attract and retain qualified faculty, expand allied health programs and update technology. General operating funds and faculty salaries are top priorities.
The second priority for the colleges is $20 million for Workforce and Economic Development. Half of this money would go toward the MI-BEST Career Pathways program. MI-BEST is a team teaching model in which GED preparation and job skills training is done concurrently. Only 57 percent of Mississippi’s prime working age adults are employed, and many of those who are not have no education or training to fall back on. The rest of the money would go to updating Career-Technical Education equipment and facilities and to update or start new programs.
The colleges’ third priority is $75 million for capital improvements, including $37,500 in bonds for FY 2017 and 2018 each. This approach gives community colleges the same opportunities universities already have for a multi-year bond bill.