Community colleges seek more money

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

BELDEN – Mississippi community college leaders are seeking an increase of about $100 million in funding during the upcoming legislative session.
The head of the state’s community college board and the leaders of Itawamba and Hinds Community Colleges outlined their funding priorities during a meeting at ICC’s Belden Center on Monday night.
The meeting was for all representatives and senators in ICC’s five-county district. Eight of the 13 attended.
“We try to keep tuition low and get money from the state to commit to increasing access for poor people,” said ICC President David Cole.
The wish list included three requests: that the state move halfway to mid-level funding, that it provide bond money for capital improvements and that it provide funds for a dropout recovery initiative.
Mid-level funding refers to a law passed in 2007 requiring the state to fund community colleges at a per-student amount midway between what it provides to K-12 students and to its regional universities. Since the law was passed, the state never has reached that target.
In order to move halfway toward it, the state would need to appropriate about $92.3 million more this year.
Eric Clark, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board, noted Mississippi’s community colleges have received national recognition and that they also provide the fastest turnaround on the state’s investment.
“Who does the best job training in Mississippi?” he said.
The community colleges are requesting $9.4 million to help high school dropouts earn their GED. Leaders say that amount would allow them to reach about 3,500 students, which is one quarter of the 14,000 students they say drop out each year.
They are also asking for $170.9 million from a bond bill to go toward capital improvements. That amount includes $9 million to build a state headquarters in Jackson and $30 million to upgrade educational technology.
“I see the benefits of what the community college system does in our community,” said Rep. Donnie Bell, R-Fulton.
Rep. Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona, also said he was supportive of community colleges but that he didn’t know what the budget would hold.
“We will do the best we can with what we have,” he said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com