BILL CRAWFORD: Community colleges seek fair funding

By Bill Crawford

Folks at community colleges think they get the short end of the stick in Mississippi education funding. Let’s take a look.
Take this year’s money for public schools, universities, and community colleges, deduct special appropriations for things like blind and deaf schools, the medical center, ag units, and student financial aid, then divide by recent enrollment headcounts and you get $12,846 per student for universities, $6,651 per student for K-12 schools, and $3,389 per student for community colleges.
Since 2000, these funds have increased $1.15 billion for schools, $278.6 million for universities, and $86.2 million for community colleges.
How do we compare to other states? Data from 2009 show our overall per student appropriations rank at the bottom nationally for K-12, fourth out of 16 southern states for universities, and sixth out of 16 southern states for community colleges.
Let’s look further.
Each year our 1,005 public schools have to bus, feed, and teach about 492,000 students; about 74 percent graduate. In addition to $3.1 billion in state funds, schools get substantial federal government support and local district support (21 to 75 mills).
Our eight public universities enrolled 76,736 students this fall. Universities not only teach students from freshmen through graduate levels but conduct significant research; about 49 percent graduate. In addition to $954 million in state funds, universities get substantial support from tuition, about $5,000 per student, the federal government, and endowment earnings.
Our 15 public community colleges enrolled 88,800 students this fall. These include students intending to transfer to universities, vo-tech students like electricians and nurses, and individuals taking classes for self-improvement; about 43 percent graduate or transfer out. Community colleges also provide workforce training and adult basic education to about 150,000 individuals each year. In addition to $301 million in state funds, colleges get substantial support from tuition, about $2,000 per student, and limited support from their local districts (1 to 3 mills).
Over and above direct appropriations, the state covers bond costs for universities and community colleges (community colleges also get limited local district funding of 1 to 3 mills). From 1998 through 2009, the state issued $632.68 million in bonds for universities (excluding $77.2 million in bonds for the medical center and forestry, agriculture, and veterinary programs) and $185.2 million for community colleges.
Community colleges say fair funding would be to get per student appropriations to “midpoint” between public schools and the four smaller universities. Current funding is about $65 million below that target.
Governor Haley Barbour says 80 percent of jobs in Mississippi require community college level skills, but only 20 percent require university degrees. Community colleges are also our principal workforce trainers.
Their fair funding request deserves a close look.

Bill Crawford is a Mississippi columnist. He is a former community college vice president and College Board trustee from Meridian. Contact him at tmibill@bellsouth.net.