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Legislators voice support for state's community colleges

Rep. Nolan Mettetal addresses the large contingent of commuity college students, staff and legislators at Capitol Day 2014.Rep. Nolan Mettetal addresses the large contingent of commuity college students, staff and legislators at Capitol Day 2014.

JACKSON – In remarks to students, faculty and other supporters of the 15 community colleges gathered at the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, key legislators voiced support for the colleges and their efforts to achieve Mid-Level funding.

Rep. Nolan Mettetal, R-Sardis, chairman of the House Universities and Colleges Committee and Appropriations Committee, is a graduate of Northwest Community College in Senatobia.

“I will tell you up front I’m one who supports Mid-Level funding. It certainly will allow you the opportunity to provide a greater opportunity for our citizens in Mississippi,” Mettetal said.

“Thank you so much for training and educating almost a quarter of a million students annually. It’s amazing how you have established yourself as the greatest value in higher education in Mississippi. It’s also quite fascinating that the fact that 64 percent of all freshmen are enrolled in a community college. Pretty remarkable,” he said.

The Mississippi Faculty Association for Community and Junior Colleges (MFACJC) sponsored the annual event.

In 2007 legislators promised to fund the colleges at the Mid-Level point – per-student funding halfway between K-12 education and the regional public universities – but the community colleges are only getting 52 percent of the promised funds.  The colleges are seeking to regain the ground they lost since the legislation was passed. It will take $86.6 million to make it half-way to the Mid-Level target.

With 64 percent of all freshmen as their students, Mississippi’s 15 community colleges play a key role in our state’s higher education system that leads to a more educated populace and a trained workforce.

“We have a diverse student body in the community college system and that’s what it’s all about ­– and that’s what it takes to make Mississippi prosper,” said Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, chairman of the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee.

Mid-Level Funding mandates per-student funding for community colleges that is midway between per-student funding for K-12 students and regional public university students. Using data from FY 2012, the regional public universities were funded at $6,125 per student and public schools were funded at $4,828 per student. Accordingly, community colleges should have been funded at $5,476 per student, but instead received only $3,075 per student.

“Middle skill jobs, which require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree, make up the largest segment of jobs in the current economy.  Community colleges are the pivotal link in preparing a competitive workforce in Mississippi,” said Dr. Clyde Muse, president of Hinds Community College and legislative chair for the 15-college system.

Johnny Allen, vice president of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges and president of Northeast Community College, said the money is there this year for the legislators to appropriate money toward Mid-Level funding.

“We want to make sure we have the means to support our students with quality faculty not only today but in the future, to provide access to quality higher education through the lowest possible tuition costs and the means to employ modern technology to make sure we have the tools to do the teaching job,” Allen said. “We believe that the means are there. We are calling on the members of the Legislature to make sure we preserve one of the most outstanding aspects of public education. “

The community colleges enroll more than 75,000 students, including 54 percent of all undergraduates and nearly half of all students taking a credit course.

"Mid-Level Funding is a means to keep tuition affordable, to recruit and retain quality faculty, and prepare more students for work. It is also simple fairness," said Dr. Eric Clark, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board.

Organizing the event was Doug Donohue, president of the Mississippi Faculty Association for Community and Junior Colleges, which hosts the annual Capitol Day event. Donohue is an instructor at Pearl River Community College.

“We are 15 colleges, speaking with one voice for our students,” Donahue said. “The quality of our programs, the affordability of a college education and the stability of a highly credentialed faculty workforce depend upon equitable funding for community colleges. Our students deserve the same support the Legislature provides for K-12 and public universities.”

The faculty associations join college presidents, students, alumni and trustees in asking legislators to support more funding for community colleges. Since Fiscal Year 2000, community college enrollment has grown 44.7 percent while state support per student has declined by 16.8 percent.

Also participating at the Capitol were colleges’ Student VOICES groups, a student-led advocacy that encourages students to be civically engaged. Topping student concerns is the cost of a college education.

“Because of the caring faculty that I came in contract with from day one, I feel like I’m making a solid foundation for my future endeavors. I want to urge you to support the community college students today and our funding request for our schools,” said Teylor Martinez, from Louisville, an East Central Community College student.

About 80 percent of new jobs being developed in the current economy require college-level learning, and, in Mississippi 54 percent of all undergraduates in public institutions are at a community college.

“We are the platform not only for the future careers of our students, but the future of our state as well,” said Dr. Ben Cloyd, director of the Honors Institute at Hinds Community College.

The 15-college system serves nearly 250,000 Mississippians each year in university transfer, career/technical, workforce and adult education programs.