Community/Junior Colleges plead, “Fill the Gap”

Written By: Teresa McCreery
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Date Submitted: 2018-03-22 16:34:20

ELLISVILLE- Students, staff, faculty, administrators and members of the state’s community college’s board of trustees gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Tuesday (March 20) pleading their case for the legislature to “Fill the Gap.”  They explained a funding gap from extensive budget cuts over the last three years has created a gap in the state’s community college’s ability to continue to be the catalyst for economic development in the state. The funding gap has also forced faculty and staff to search for better-paying jobs because many have gone without raises for nine-years, or have been laid off, putting the whole system in jeopardy.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College President, Dr. Mary Graham spoke on behalf of the two-year college presidents explaining, “We need help from the Mississippi Legislature not only in operational dollars, because many of the community/junior colleges are well over one-hundred years old, but we also need help with bond dollars to repair our infrastructure. We need help with dollars to operate our institutions to open programs so we can train students for the future of Mississippi.”
Dr. Graham reported the nation’s oldest community/junior college system has a $4.86 return on each dollar invested in the state’s 15 community/junior colleges. Statewide, the two-year college system trains more than 100,000 individuals annually and puts more people to work in the state than any other entity. Community/Junior colleges are also credited with being the “training arm” of the state and a key to economic development. Previously, Mississippi’s two-year institutions were ranked number-one out of the 1,100 community colleges in the nation. However, Dr. Graham said that ranking has declined because of the lack of funding to pay competitive wages and provide the necessary skills training programs, which has also left jobs unfilled because applicants can’t get the needed skills training.
“We are the provider of workforce training because the definition of workforce training is not simply that you can strike a welding torch but workforce training is every opportunity to earn a living in the state of Mississippi. We are training in every level of education to move students forward, to move Mississippians forward so that they can secure jobs and sustain a future for themselves and their families,” said Dr. Graham.
The “Fill the Gap” campaign is an effort to get the attention of the Legislature to restore funding as community/junior college leaders struggle to continue to provide an education for anyone seeking to improve their skills. General Manager and Executive VP of Empire Truck and Stribling Equipment, Lonnie Cook shared how collaborating with Hinds Community College President, Dr. Clyde Muse enabled his company to establish the Diesel Technology Academy south of Jackson to fill the demand for technicians for his company. Cook’s vision to develop its technicians in-house had challenges that were resolved with help from the leadership of community colleges.
“The demand for diesel technicians in the trucking industry is projected to grow to over 21percent in the next 10 years. We have three million trucks on the road. That’s a lot of opportunity for young people! However, the (trucking) industry needs a community/junior college’s support to reach our goal and that goes back to funding. We all need funding to make it work. In return, community/junior colleges need to be funded to cultivate the kind of students we need to fill these middle-skill positions,” said Cook.
Mississippians are able to dream of a brighter future because community/junior college’s offer opportunities for everyone if they have a desire to achieve that dream. Hinds Community College student Adam Kirkland shared because of his career and technical degrees in welding and Precision Manufacturing and Machining Technology, a “world” of opportunities have opened up before him. However, as Jones County Junior College Board of Trustees Chairman, David Garner acknowledged, the “dream” doesn’t come free. He explained everyone must not only give their time and talents, but we must also give of our resources.
“Unless we are able to come together to find a way to fund our programs, to pay and educate those who have a dream for their families to do better, then we will suffer a greater cost. A cost of falling into a time in which we in Mississippi will have to look beyond our state borders for talent. A cost in which we in Mississippi will no longer be able to rely on the best medical care in our finest hospitals; A cost in which we will see our students of tomorrow suffer from a lack of educators who are able, equipped and desire to see the burning light of knowledge in the eyes of those that are before them.”
After the “Fill the Gap” rally on the Capitol steps, community/junior college leaders met with legislators and are optimistic about future funding. Jones County Junior College President, Dr. Jesse Smith said, “I think we made an impact today. Legislators are starting to really understand the value of community/junior colleges.”
For more information about the “Fill the Gap” campaign click on the link:  


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