Community College Capitol Day shines spotlight on underfunding

Written By: Cathy Hayden and Kelly Atwood
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Date Submitted: 2012-03-21 15:07:00

More than 200 students, faculty and administrators of the 15 Mississippi community colleges converged on the state Capitol today to share their message about the colleges’ needs with state leaders.

“Our request is simple: that the Legislature make community colleges a priority,” said Dr. Eric Clark, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board. “We know that we can’t hit the target but we’re asking to be a priority in funding.  We’re asking for significant progress toward Mid-Level Funding so that the educational institutions that are the best bargain, that provide job training, that provide the quickest payback on the state’s investment and that are historically underfunded can do more to provide our citizens with the job skills to make a good living in the 21st century and pay more taxes to our state.”

The colleges provide higher education and workforce training to thousands of Mississippians while at the same time grappling with low state appropriations. 

Over the past three years, credit enrollment has climbed 23 percent, from 67,779 to 83,210 students. In fall 2010, 72 percent of all Mississippi freshmen in public institutions were enrolled in a community college. At the same time, the colleges are 39 percent below Mid-Level Funding, approved by legislators in 2007.

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 2010, the IHL regional universities were funded at $6,648 per student and K-12 at $4,638 per student.  Accordingly, community colleges should have been funded at $5,643 per students, but instead received only $3,277 per student. 

“It’s of the utmost importance that we maintain the highest quality of education because we don’t want to shortchange our citizenship,” said Bob Smith, Mississippi Faculty Association of Community and Junior Colleges. “Without being a higher priority in the state funding structure, our paradigm shifts from being a nationally recognized success to simply being another educational survivor.” 

College students sporting “Survivor” television show-themed Mid-Level Funding  t-shirts stood behind Bob Smith. Scott Carter, a JCJC student and a member of the new organization, Student Voices, said supporting Mid-Level Funding is important.

“One of the big advantages to attending a community/junior college is the lower tuition, and the lack of Mid-Level Funding puts a strain on a student if tuition increases,” said Carter. “Workforce training is very important to companies large or small, and community/junior colleges provide training needed for a world that is constantly evolving and shifting towards newer technology. Our colleges train those already in a job and reach those who are unemployed, ultimately making a difference in our state’s economy.”

Just prior to the community college news conference, state leaders received good news from state economist Darrin Webb, which resulted in the Joint Legislative Budget Committee adopting increased revenue estimates for the current fiscal year and FY 2013 to reflect growth in state tax collections. Current year estimates rose by $99 million. The FY 2013 budget estimate rose by $128 million.

Later in the afternoon, legislative Democrats held a news conference in which they asked that more money be appropriated for education, including community colleges.

“With our improving economy, we have enough money to maintain level funding,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory.

JCJC President Dr. Jesse Smith said that since Mid-Level Funding passed in 2007, the state budget has faced a “perfect storm” of issues that caused economic strain, but now that the economy is seeing growth, college leaders are looking for Mid-Level Funding to become a priority.

“Increased funding will help us provide the necessary services that will help students succeed, help retain students and help them graduate,” said JCJC President Dr. Jesse Smith.



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