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MCC president announces retirement

(WTOK)
Published: Jan. 10, 2018 at 9:53 PM CST
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School officials at Meridian Community College tell Newscenter 11 Dr. Scott Elliott is retiring.

After serving as president of MCC for 20 years, Dr. Elliott will retire this summer. He says being part of the MCC family has been the greatest blessing of his 33 years in higher education administration. He's proud of all the college has accomplished under his leadership, but he's looking forward to spending more time with his family.

MCC sent this press release today:

ELLIOTT ANNOUNCES IMPENDING RETIREMENT AS MCC PRESIDENT

Referencing an often-quoted Bible verse (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), Meridian Community College President Dr. Scott Elliott recently announced that he will retire this summer. He has been at the MCC helm the past 20 years.

Speaking at the opening faculty meeting of the spring term last week, Elliott told his colleagues that “for everything there is a season, and my season at MCC will soon be coming to fruition.”

“Being part of the MCC family has been the greatest blessing of my 33 years in higher education administration,” Elliott continued. “Thanks to the unwavering support of the MCC Board of Trustees and the outstanding work of the college’s faculty and staff, I would like to think it’s been a fairly productive run. I have been very proud of the accomplishments of our team. I want to thank our Board of Trustees, my colleagues at MCC, and the people of Lauderdale County for providing me with the opportunity to be associated with a nationally renowned college.”

Elliott also acknowledged his predecessor, Dr. Bill Scaggs, who he called “an icon in the annals of Mississippi higher education.”

“When I came to MCC in 1998, I inherited from Dr. Scaggs a prolific team of administrators, faculty and staff,” Elliott recalled. “Dr. Scaggs is the president who built MCC into something really special. It was my goal from the outset to try to capitalize on the momentum and successes that he and his team had long established. I would like to think that has been accomplished, at least to some degree.”

During Elliott’s tenure at MCC, the college:

● grew its annual budget from $24,091,338 to $52,887,336 or 120 percent;

● expanded its physical plant to 94 acres supporting over 30 new structures and representing approximately 270,000 additional square feet of building space, while also renovating numerous existing areas;

● recorded several years of record-breaking credit enrollment, peaking at 4,500 credit students in 2010;

● bolstered its customized workforce training, continuing education and adult basic education programs to serve upwards of 10,000 students annually, many of them taking classes in MCC’s new 85,000-square foot workforce training center;

● increased its nursing program enrollments from approximately 250 students to over 700 annually with the Associate Degree (RN) program becoming among the largest in the state;

● initiated several new Career & Technical programs, including cosmetology and nail technology, industrial maintenance, millwright, commercial truck driving, surgical technology, dental assisting, culinary arts, paramedic, welding, and medical billing and coding;

● instituted a comprehensive e-learning program of on-line classes;

● partnered with county and city K-12 schools to develop a dual enrollment curriculum, annually providing dozens of area students with a head start on their college experience;

● witnessed annual private investment in the college’s foundation grow from $627,400 to a single-year record of $5,886,608 in 2016; and

● implemented an energy conservation program that to date has amassed roughly $2.6 million in savings on utilities.

Another highlight of the Elliott era was a run of 13 consecutive years in which MCC recorded the highest grade point average in the state among all 15 community colleges in terms of how its students performed upon matriculation to Mississippi universities. During another streak, MCC posted the state’s highest graduation rate four years in succession.

Notably, in 2016-17, the college was ranked No. 3 in the U.S. in two separate independent polls among the nation’s some 1,600 two-year colleges. MCC was ranked No. 7 in yet another national survey and was three times nominated for the prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Moreover, MCC won the coveted Bellwether Award sponsored by the University of Florida for excellence in economic development programming.

In athletics, MCC became and remains the only community college in state history to win a national title in soccer, recorded two national runner-up finishes in golf, and chalked up numerous other Top 10 national rankings and state and regional titles in golf, tennis, softball, track and baseball. Moreover, the Eagle athletic department won the Halbrook Award three times for having the highest student-athlete graduation in the state.

“It was never a goal of mine or our Board’s for MCC to be the biggest community college in the state,” Elliott said. “We’ve only sought to be the best we could possibly be in serving the people of our region. Given that MCC’s district is by far and away the smallest in the state geographically with one-half of one county, I think it could be argued that pound-for-pound many of MCC’s outcomes are as good as anybody’s. In other words, if you look at our outcomes on a per capita basis, considering the size of our district, I think the achievements of my colleagues have been really quite remarkable.”

Despite those and other accomplishments, Elliott said he believes MCC can do better under new leadership.

“Change can be an invigorating thing,” Elliott said. “The average tenure of a college president is about eight years, and I’ve been here 20. A new president will undoubtedly come in here with some fresh ideas and different perspectives, and that will be good for the college as it tackles new and unmet challenges. MCC was a premier college before I came, and it will most definitely be so after I leave.”

Asked about those “unmet challenges,” Elliott, who served stints as both chairman of the Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges (MACJC) and the Mississippi Association of Colleges (MAC), said he regrets that during his watch the community college system did not make more progress in garnering greater legislative support.

“I always thought we (community colleges) had a convincing argument in terms of the correlation between our mission and the state’s future economic and social prosperity,” Elliott said. “I felt we could position an increased number of Mississippians for good-paying jobs and, thus, boost the state’s tax base, if only the colleges could muster a more equitable portion of state funding for K-through-University education. But the truth is that we haven’t moved the needle very much during my time. For every general fund tax dollar invested in public education in Mississippi, the community colleges only get about 7 cents. That’s just not enough, in my view, to build the kind of workforce that will enable Mississippi to expand existing industry and compete at an optimum level for new industry.”

Another current challenge is contraction, which has been occurring among nearly all the nation’s community colleges since unemployment rates have plummeted to record lows.

“There’s an inverse relationship between the economy and enrollment,” Elliott explained. “When the economy is healthy and more people are working, community college enrollments tend to ebb. The reverse is also true. MCC’s next president will hopefully develop innovative strategies to combat that trend, but, candidly, that’s no small task in a region in which four terrific community colleges are competing ever-earnestly to recruit more students. It’s like we’re all trying to command a larger slice of a shrinking pie.”

MCC’s greatest achievement during his administration?

“I would hate to single out any one thing,” Elliott answered, “but I will say that I have been president of MCC mostly during some pretty lean years when we suffered multiple reductions in state funding. Yet, the college was successful in growing its enrollment and campus facilities, in virtually eliminating all of its debt while also building a modest reserve, and in diversifying its curriculum. So, given the times, I think our team did a highly credible job.”

“Whatever success I have experienced at MCC,” he added, “has mostly been a product of surrounding myself with people a lot smarter than me, then getting out of their way and letting them do their jobs. I owe all of them – past and present - a great debt of thanks.”

What will he do in retirement?

“Being president of any college is pretty much all-consuming,” Elliott responded. “I have served as a college president for 23 years now in two different states and been in senior-level college administration for over 30 years total. I have found that even when you’re on vacation, you are constantly invested in the job. So, I look forward to spending more time with my wife, my children and my grandchildren. And while I have always considered community college work to be missionary in a sense, I nevertheless need to somehow better serve my God in the future.”

MCC Board Chairman Alex Weddington noted that the search for Elliott’s successor will begin soon with a goal of naming a new president sometime this spring or early summer. Elliott is the third of the state’s community college presidents to announce his retirement this school year following Drs. Larry Nabors and Ronnie Nettles at Mississippi Delta and Copiah-Lincoln community colleges, respectively.