Clark outlines community college funding requests

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mississippi’s community colleges receive significantly less state funding per student than they did 12 years ago, the executive director of the state community college board said Tuesday.
Eric Clark met with the Daily Journal’s editorial board to discuss the state’s two-year colleges and priorities for the current legislative session.
In 2000, Mississippi’s 15 community colleges received $4,522 per student, a number that fell to $3,424 per student in actual dollars in the current fiscal year. The decline of $1,098, or 24 percent, was caused by both funding cuts and enrollment spikes, Clark said.
During the same time period, K-12 schools received a 39.5 percent funding increase per student, and state universities received a 2.7 percent decline in per pupil funding, according to Clark.
Community college enrollment rose by about 50 percent during those 12 years, while appropriations grew by 13.7 percent.
The result has been larger class sizes, bigger course loads for instructors and the use of more part-time instructors, Clark said. The increased part-time instructors could lead to problems with accreditation, he said.
Colleges have also had to delay renovations and scale back travel, Clark said.
“We are a victim of our success,” he said. “Community colleges do more with less and don’t complain and do great work with teaching students and job training.”
Clark referred to a 2007 law that required Mississippi’s legislators to fund community colleges at a per student amount midway between what it spends on K-12 schools and on the state’s regional universities.
That law has never been followed, Clark said. When that law was passed in 2007, state funding was 28 percent below mid-level funding. The deficit dropped as low as 16 percent in 2009, but is now back up to 39 percent, Clark said.
For the state to get halfway toward the mid-level funding target this year would require $77 million, Clark said.
“We know we won’t get $77 million, but we ask legislators to make community colleges a priority this year and to make significant progress toward mid-level funding,” Clark said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com