Like other commitments the Legislature so far has ignored the community colleges, even though it passed the law it chooses to disobey.
The community colleges like ICC, Northeast, Northwest and East Central, which serve parts of Northeast Mississippi, are accurately described as workhorses of higher education. They offer academic preparation qualifying students for university enrollment, and they provide work force training for students on non-degree tracks who want to get a job and make a good living by hard work.
However, strapped for cash, the community colleges, like the critically underfunded public schools, can’t do what they want and are capable of doing, if given full funding.
The Legislature can read the numbers as well as anybody. The community colleges need $92.3 million just to catch up to where they’re supposed to be.
In addition, the community colleges have fallen behind on capital projects because of a lack of state funding through bond bills usually passed to meet those needs. The community colleges seek $170.1 million for capital improvements, which includes $30 million to upgrade educational technology and build a new headquarters building in Jackson.
Delaying or ignoring the capital requests won’t reduce the costs; postponing runs the risk of higher costs once the needs are addressed.
Mississippi’s community colleges enrollment has climbed steadily during the past decade, a measure of the confidence our state’s residents and students have in the system.
As in other education ventures, Mississippi is part of national playing field for community colleges.
“The notion of access is wired in our DNA.” That's how Norma Kent, senior vice president of communications and advancement at the American Association of Community Colleges, describes “the cornerstone” of the community college's mission.
Increased demand nationwide as in Mississippi is only one of the reasons community colleges are struggling to meet their missions. The other is drastic reductions in funding. Not only do they need additional resources to expand to meet demand, they are struggling to keep up with programs they already have.
The Legislature could resolve that issue in Mississippi if it has the will.