EDITORIAL: ICC’s tuition hold

By NEMS Daily Journal

Itawamba Community College’s decision to hold the line on tuition costs for the 2010-2011 academic year affirms its commitment to affordable higher education access, even in financially challenging times for education at every level in our state.
ICC President David Cole said the fully committed financial support of the college’s district counties – Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Chickasaw, and Pontotoc – provides financial stability which, combined with wide-ranging internal cost reductions and controls, holds down expenses. Holding the line, Cole said, sets ICC apart from most of the other 14 community colleges.
Cole, himself a graduate of Northwest Community College in Senatobia, said he could not in good conscience agree to a tuition increase with unemployment in the district at 14.2 percent, above the 12 percent statewide average.
ICC, with its historic main campus in Fulton and a two-site branch campus in Tupelo, in January enrolled more than 8,200 students, keeping pace with a 14 percent fall 2009 semester increase.
Cole said tuition guarantees in all the district’s counties, Pell Grants, and the college’s own scholarship funds make it possible for almost every qualified district resident to enter ICC. That is the best method beyond high school graduation for increasing educational attainment.
Cole and doubtless the other 14 community college presidents wish the state were as committed to funding adequacy and long-term success as the counties in the ICC district.
The state’s community colleges, which have a larger enrollment than the eight universities, are engaged in a multi-level battle in the Capitol:
– State support per student in community colleges, adjusted for inflation, has dropped 25.9 percent since 2000.
– The community colleges’ goal of achieving “mid-level” per-student funding – halfway between K-12 and universities, is $2,287 off the mark of $6,244. The per-student K-12 is $5,137; universities are at $7,352.
– State funding increases since 2000 for community colleges total 22.1 percent, compared to 23.4 percent for universities and 53.3 percent for K-12 schools.
In addition, Gov. Barbour’s political agenda includes shifting institutional control of the community colleges away from boards of trustees in the 15 districts (appointed by boards of supervisors) to a structure in which community colleges would be governed, in effect, by the Board of Trustees of the Institutions of Higher Learning – the universities. All of this is proposed in the name of efficiency.
We’re not convinced that IHL has proven it can run its own system at maximum efficiency, much less take on an additional system with more than 80,000 students.
The immediacy of response within community college districts to special needs – academic and jobs training – would be imperiled in a centralized governing board far distant from virtually every campus.
In addition, the increasing enrollments demand more capital investment in the community colleges. Bond bills that could alleviate bursting-at-the-seams crowding on campuses like ICC aren’t adequate for the needs.
The Legislature and the governor need to more fully appreciate the value of the community colleges, moving them methodically toward financial and facilities adequacy.