Community colleges: We’re thriving, need more money

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Leaders of the state’s 15 community colleges told members of the Legislative Budget Committee Thursday they provide state government “the best bang for the buck,” but they need more funds to do even more.
Eric Clark, executive director of the Community College Board, made a request to the Legislative Budget Committee of an additional $101.7 million or an increase of 43.8 percent.
“We do so well with what we have,” Clark told the 14-member committee, which has been meeting this week to work on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1, 2013. “We could do a whole lot better with more.”
The bulk of the increased funding request would be to reach the mid-point in funding per student between what the kindergarten through 12-grade system receives and what the state’s smaller universities get.
In 2007, the Legislature mandated that community colleges receive mid-level funding between the regional universities and K-12 schools. According to information provided to legislative leaders, it would take $184.6 million additional funds to reach that level. The community colleges are asking for $92.3 million of that amount for the upcoming fiscal year.
They also seek additional money for GED classes for high school dropouts.
Legislative leaders praised the efforts of the community colleges in general.
Johnny Allen, president of Northeast Mississippi Community College, who like Itawamba Community College President David Cole attended the presentation, said his Booneville-based school needs additional funds to hire more faculty, to provide additional classroom space and to update equipment, especially for its vocational programs.
During the past 10 years, he said enrollment has increased 30 percent but is down 6 percent for the current year. He said that decrease is partly because the trend of adults returning to school to learn new skills is slowing and because of a reduction in federal tuition assistance.
Allen said community colleges were being hit by reductions in federal tuition assistance and a reduction in state funds, but “we are at a point where we do not want to ask families to do more” in terms of tuition.
The average tuition for the 15 community colleges is $2,242 annually.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com