Miss. community colleges seek $100 million more

By Jeff Amy/The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s 15 community and junior colleges are seeking an additional $101.7 million in the 2014 budget year, again arguing that they’ve been particularly ill-treated in recent state spending plans.

Eric Clark, executive director of the Community College Board, told lawmakers Thursday that money would go to expand worker training, buy new equipment to train students in subjects including welding and nursing and raise salaries for employees. He also said more money would help keep tuition low.

“We do so well with what we already have,” Clark said. “We could do a whole lot better with some more.”

The community colleges also asked for another $9.4 million to expand efforts to enroll high school dropouts in equivalency diploma classes. Right now, the colleges get a total of $1.5 million, or $100,000 apiece, for that effort.

Public schools, community colleges and universities have asked, in total, for an additional $512 million next year. Those entities are receiving more than $3.1 billion in state money in the budget year that began July 1. Lawmakers have indicated that while education funding may rise, they doubt they can fulfill those requests.

In 2007, the Legislature legally bound itself to fund community colleges at a level halfway in between what K-12 schools and less expensive public universities get per student. Based on the 2011 budget, that amount would be $5,182 per student. But because community college enrollments ballooned while budgets were pressured by the recession, they got barely half that amount per student in 2011 — $2,686.

Community colleges got more money in this year’s budget, and Clark said enrollment has dipped slightly. That means per-student funding is estimated to rise to $3,327 per student in the current 2013 budget year, but that’s still short of the nearly $5,000 per student that K-12 schools will receive from the state.

Clark asked for $92 million, or roughly half of what he said it would take to get to the legally mandated midpoint.

“We know this can’t be achieved overnight, but we’re asking the Legislature to make progress,” he said.

Though short of the legal benchmark, Mississippi spent more than the southern per-student average on community colleges in 2009-2010, the most recent year with data available from the Southern Regional Education Board. Mississippi also spent more than the southern per-student average on its public universities in that year.