By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
BELDEN – Mississippi’s community colleges have three funding priorities for the upcoming legislative session, school leaders said on Wednesday.
Itawamba Community College President David Cole and Hinds Community College President Clyde Muse made their pitch to several state representatives and senators during ICC’s Fall Legislative Meeting. The event was held at the college’s Manufacturing Solutions Center on its Belden campus and featured legislators from ICC’s five-county region.
The wish list outlined by Cole and Muse included moving community college state funding closer to the mid-level target and providing money for both capital improvements and a dropout recovery initiative.
Mid-level funding refers to a law passed in 2007 that requires the state to fund community colleges at a per-student amount midway between the amount it provides to K-12 schools and to public universities.
Since the law was passed, the state has not reached that mark. To do so in the 2013 fiscal year would require an additional $77 million above this year’s level, according to data compiled by the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges.
Having mid-level funding would allow community colleges to hire more full-time instructors, said Cole, noting that they are now forced to rely on a high number of adjunct teachers. It also would help provide higher salaries to instructors, helping colleges recruit and retain high-quality teachers, Muse said.
“If we can get to mid-level funding, it would help us with all the things it takes to run a quality institution, whether that is technology, materials, supplies, et cetera,” said Muse, who is also the chair of the MACJC’s legislative committee.
State community colleges are asking for $166 million for capital improvements. That would help alleviate stress caused by recent statewide enrollment growth and would help renovate and repair aging buildings, the two men said.
The third initiative seeks $11.5 million for a dropout recovery initiative. Roughly 425,000 Mississippi adults over 25 years old do not have a GED or high school diploma, Cole said. The community colleges, with their GED classes, provide an avenue for those students to get the skills they need, he said.
“Those students have a hard time being productive without a minimum level of education,” he said. “When a person gets to an age where that realization comes, let me get my high school equivalency, that is where we can help them.”