JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from Jones County Junior College
The 15-member Community and Junior College President's Association, in conjunction with the Mississippi State Community College Board leadership presented its formal, 2017 fiscal-year budget request to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee Tuesday, September 22.
Armed with the recent ranking as the top community college system in the nation by Wallet Hub, leaders of Mississippi's 15 community colleges submitted to the Legislative Budget Committee an $82.7 million increase in state funding for FY 2017. That study also shows Mississippi's community colleges have an excellent return on investment with every dollar invested in community colleges by Mississippi taxpayers, an additional $3.86 is re-invested into the state.
"If Mississippi community colleges were a company, would you recommend to Warren Buffett that he buy it? The answer, of course, is yes." said Dr. Jesse Smith, president of Jones County Junior College and chair of the 15-member Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges.
At the hearing, Sen. Terry Burton of Newton, (R-District 31), replied, "You remain the single best bang for every educational dollar the state spends."
The FY 2017 budget request for community colleges includes $64.5 million be directed to mid-level funding. Mid-level funding was unanimously passed by the 2007 Legislature and brings per-student support at a mid-point between per-student spending for K-12 and regional public universities. The Legislature would need to increase per-student funding by $2,062 to achieve mid-level funding at community colleges.
The request includes $8 million for capital expense funds to repair and renovate facilities and $10.1 million to help fund MI-BEST, Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training.
The MI-BEST model bridges the skills gap for higher wage jobs, while equipping high school dropouts with job-ready credentials. Students in the program are concurrently enrolled in Adult Education and Career Pathway programs. MI-BEST also provides a safety net of support services to help adult learners earn employer-recognized credentials.
According to Mississippi Works, Gov. Phil Bryant's workforce program, there are 35,000 unfilled jobs in the state. In Mississippi, only 55-percent of working-age adults are employed. The President's Association's budget request included $20 million in Workforce Training to help address this problem.
"There is a fear that we as Community Colleges will not be able to keep up with workforce demands in our state without an investment in new and innovative programs," said Dr. Smith.
Community College leaders also expressed concern about rising tuition costs to legislators. Nine of the15-community colleges had to increase tuition in 2015 because of declining support funding. The average, tuition and fees at the state's community colleges is currently $2,576, which is a 4-percent increase over 2014.
Smith stated, "Mississippi's Community Colleges are at a critical point in relation to consumer pricing. With additional increases in tuition, we may no longer be an affordable option for students in our communities."
In FY 2016, student tuition and fees accounted for 32-percent of the 15-community colleges' budgets, compared to 18-percent in FY 2000. With broad education and workforce training missions, the 15 two-year colleges are managing lean budgets to make the path to degrees and certificates more cost-efficient, for both students and the state.
"Our community colleges are at a crossroads to maintain the quality and scope of services that earned us a first place recognition nationally. We must have sufficient resources and support from the Legislature to equip our citizens with the education and skills that provide family sustaining wages," said Deborah J. Gilbert, interim executive director, Mississippi Community College Board.
Additionally, mid-level funding is a necessity for community colleges because it bolsters faculty resources, where 69-percent of the budget is spent on salaries. Faculty salaries are currently $6,984 below that mid-point target. It will take about $45 million to reach the mid-point salary target. Community college presidents are asking for half of that amount in FY 2017.
The President's Association also requested $37.5 million per year for a two-year bond bill commitment, similar to the bond commitment made to the university system.
"The community college system maintains 31.9 percent of all square-footage dedicated to public higher education in the state, but it only receives 23.5 percent of the bond funding allocated to higher education," said Dr. Mary Graham, president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
At JCJC, Dr. Smith explained, "The majority of facilities built on the Jones campus in the 1970's, under the leadership of former JCJC President, Dr. Terrell Tisdale has been crucial in the success of our institution. However, the reality is these well used buildings are now in serious need of renovation and repair."