Community College Crunch

When Mississippi lawmakers return to Jackson next year, it's projected that they will have to work with the state's leanest budget in years. So, what does this mean? Many say one of two things: either a tax increase or cuts. However, when it comes to cuts, officials with one group say they've had enough!

Monday Meridian Community College hosted a legislative luncheon to update local, state lawmakers about the plight of community colleges.

"We just want to say that we really cannot be cut anymore!" said MCC Associate Vice-President of Government Affairs, Dr. Kathy Baxter.

MCC is not alone. As enrollment at the state's 15 community colleges continues to go up, the funding continues to go down. Figures show since the fiscal year 300 state funding for Mississippi's community colleges has dropped by 17 percent, compared to a seven percent drop for state universities and a 24 percent increase in state funding for kindergarten through 12th grade education, all of this while funding for systems such as state corrections, mental health and debt services more than tripled over the last decade.

Even local delegates show are big supporters of community colleges say the reasons for this are simple.

"The prisons are getting fuller and debt services, we're issuing more bonds," says District 33 State Senator Videt Carmichael.

Meanwhile, community college officials say all they want is a fair chance.

"Fair to me is if times are tough, cut everybody the same!" says MCC President Dr. Scott Elliott.

As lawmakers prepare to bite the bullet and face some tough choices, Elliott says the answer is not even raising taxes, but instead creating more taxpayers. This is something which he says community colleges do best through their many quick and affective, fast track skilled labor programs. However, despite this, lawmakers we talked to say the likelihood of Elliott's "wish list" becoming a reality during next year's session is not likely!