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Community colleges push for mid-level funding

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Surrounded by students wearing "Vote Mississippi Values" shirts, Meridian Community College President Scott Elliott, center, chairman of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges, explains why mid-level funding is important.
Surrounded by students wearing “Vote Mississippi Values” shirts, Meridian Community College President Scott Elliott, center, chairman of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges, explains why mid-level funding is important.
02/18/11 – With dozens of students wearing black “Vote Mississippi Values” T-shirts as a backdrop, supporters of the 15 Mississippi community colleges asked lawmakers to follow through on their 2007 commitment to mid-level funding. Mid-level mandates per-student funding for community colleges that is midway between per-student funding for K-12 students and regional public university students. The colleges need $134 million to completely achieve mid-level funding, which is a gap of $2,288 per student. “The best medicine I think we can spoon feed our economy is the Mississippi community college system,” said Dr. Scott Elliott, president of Meridian Community College and chairman of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges. “Whatever investment Mississippians make in this great system is going to be returned many fold. I would ask our legislators to help us help Mississippi.” The annual community college Capitol Day on Feb. 17, hosted by the 900-member statewide faculty association, spotlighted underfunding at the colleges. Credit enrollment at Mississippi’s 15 community colleges has increased 31 percent over the past three years, but state funding has continued to decline since 2007, when the legislators approved mid-level funding. “The community college system has seen tremendous growth over the past 10 years while providing record graduates into our workforce. But at the same time they have shouldered deep financial cuts in state funding,” said Dale Purvis, a member of the Pearl River Community College Board of Trustees and a local business owner. “From a business owners’ standing, the community college system is of great value to me and other business owners.” Tameka Wilson, a nontraditional Honors student at Hinds Community College, said she is achieving her dream of attending college and plans to continue it by attending law school. “My community college is helping me to achieve that goal,” she said. “I am pleased I made the decision to come back to school to pursue my degree and that I chose a community college before transferring to a four-year university. The personal attention, encouragement and value I’ve received have helped me to become the person you see today.” Current year state appropriations funding decreased 10.3 percent over the previous year to below 2008 levels, which leaves the colleges struggling to meet the needs of more students with fewer state dollars. During the past 10 years community college enrollment has grown 54 percent while state support has declined by 26 percent. “The mid-level funding law recognized our community college system as the best educational buy and recognized that funding has not kept pace with that of IHL and K-12. However, with recent budget cuts we have fallen behind,” said Kyle Hill, president of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges Faculty Association. “Today finds our community colleges teaching 74 percent of all freshmen enrolled in higher education in Mississippi; 58 percent of all undergraduates in Mississippi universities were enrolled at a community college,” said Hill, director of bands at Pearl River Community College. Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, chairman of the Universities and Colleges Committee, said mid-level funding must be addressed before proposed new performance standards are imposed on community colleges. “There is room for improvement on our end … and that is to make sure you have the resources to do what you need to do,” Buck said. Hinds Community College alumnus Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant noted the students’ “Vote Mississippi Values” shirts. “I understand what Mississippi Values are,” he said. “A part of them is a good education, working hard and supporting your family. Community colleges help young people and now nontraditional students do just that. … That’s why we love and work hard in community colleges.” Sen. Perry Lee, R-Mendenhall, said he knows the Simpson County branch of Copiah-Lincoln Community College has benefited students. “I can tell you for a fact that if it was not for the community college system there that a lot of young men and women in my county would not have gotten an education,” he said. “I appreciate what the community college does in our state.”
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