Larger community colleges hit harder by budget cuts

JACKSON – Community colleges with larger enrollments, such as Fulton-based Itawamba Community College, will be hit harder by the budget cuts Gov. Haley Barbour made last week because of the protracted dip in state tax collections.
Barbour cut nearly $172 million, including $158.3 million from education, which included $12.5 million from the state’s 15 community and junior colleges.
The bulk of the cuts came from education, the governor said, because it was one of the few areas not cut in the budget passed by the 2009 Legislature and signed into law by him. The governor was forced to make the cuts only two months after the new budget year began, he said, because state tax collections were $31.7 million – 5.25 percent – below the official estimate. State law gives the governor the authority to make cuts when he determines revenue will not meet the official estimate, which is the figure used to construct the budget.
Barbour made 5 percent cuts in education funding and in other areas that were not cut 5 percent by the budget enacted by the Legislature.
While the governor cut 5 percent across the board in funding for community colleges, it will have a greater impact on the larger schools. Under the funding formula used by the state Board for Community and Junior Colleges, schools with a higher enrollment will receive a greater percentage of the cut.

Local impact
For instance, ICC will be cut 8.7 percent or a little more than $1 million. The largest school in the state, Hinds Community College, will be cut 13.7 percent or $1.6 million while Gulf Coast Community College will be cut 11.4 percent.
Coahoma Community College in the Delta and Southwest Mississippi Community College are the smallest and will receive cuts of about 3.3 percent or less than $400,000.
The cut for Northeast Mississippi Community College, based in Booneville, will be just about at the average for the system overall – 5.3 percent or $634,791.
“The economy is such, I don’t guess there is anything we can do about it,” said ICC President David Cole.
To absorb the cuts, Cole said, the college will trim back “short-term maintenance and short-term upkeep.” He said the system will work to hold down spending on utilities, but those efforts will be limited by what the utilities cost. Travel will be kept to a minimum.
“It’s hard to cut funding for supplies,” he said. “If you are going to have school, you must have computers that will work.”
The tough economic conditions that are driving down state revenue and thus funding for community colleges also are driving up community college enrollment.
Systemwide, community colleges have experienced a double-digit increase in enrollment. At ICC, enrollment is up 16.3 percent from last year to 8,122 students.
Under federal programs, Cole said a person who loses his or her job can get two years of schooling free and receive a small stipend if he or she falls into a certain income category.
“This is going on systemwide.” Cole said. “When the economy slows, there is an exponential increase in community college enrollment.”

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal