Community Colleges Make Funding Arguments

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Community colleges from across Mississippi asked lawmakers to reach a little deeper in their budgeting pockets to ensure funding is where it should be.

Kelsey Chandler enrolled at Hinds Community College a couple of years ago and says she couldn't be happier about her decision.

“It helped me get out of my fears for going to college because going to college can be scary coming out of high school," Chandler said.

As a current sophomore, she joined with other students, faculty and staff, highlighting the state's 15 community and junior colleges and their impact on the state's work force and future success.

"We teach about a quarter of a million people a year and we are the main entity that teaches job skills to folks in our state," said Dr. Eric Clark,
executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board.

Clark says more and more students are turning to community colleges for various reasons. For chandler, it all came down to affordability.

"I wouldn't have been able to go to (a 4-year) college at all, so going to community college made college possible for me," said Chandler.

To keep that possibility alive for students like Chandler, Clark says it all comes down to funding, or in this case, the consistent lack of it.

During a rally at the Capitol Thursday, Clark helped lead the charge asking lawmakers to live up to a law they passed. The Mid-Level Funding Act, passed in 2007, grants community college funding at a mid-level between public schools and universities.

Based on recent funding levels, that should put the community college funding at about $5,100 per student. The problem is, current funding is just more than half of that, at about $2,700.

"We're asking as the legislature comes to a close in the next month, to make community colleges a priority and to make some progress on mid-level funding," Clark said.

Without it, Clark says salaries decrease and so do the number of classes offered, despite demand.

Sen. Terry Burton of Newton told the group he'll work to do all he can to make sure they have what they need.

"Our continued economic success demands that we provide for you what we can from the state," Burton said.