East Mississippi Community College President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks, front row, center, with students, faculty and staff from the college during Capitol Day held in Jackson. Representatives from community and junior colleges across the state attended the event.
East Mississippi Community College President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks, front row, center, with students, faculty and staff from the college during Capitol Day held in Jackson. Representatives from community and junior colleges across the state attended the event.
JACKSON — In an effort to get the Mississippi Legislature’s attention, community college presidents, faculty, and students from across the state took part in a press conference last month, held at the capitol building in Jackson to stress the role community and junior colleges play in providing a vast array of educational and economic opportunities for everyone.

East Mississippi Community College sent a large contingent to the capitol in support of the effort.

“Community colleges play an integral role in fostering the wellbeing of the communities we serve and the state as a whole,” EMCC President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks said. “We serve as economic drivers meeting the demands of business and industry while providing students a solid foundation to segue into a four-year institution or the skills needed to obtain well-paying jobs here at home. Our ability to continue to provide a low-cost quality education is imperative for our students, our communities and this great state.”

Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges Legislative Co-chair and Jones College President Dr. Jesse Smith encouraged legislators to “face the facts.”

“For every dollar invested in the community college system, the return on the investment is four-dollars and eighty-six cents,” Smith said. “That’s a worthwhile investment if you’re just talking about an investment but what about the people?” 

Event organizers told the crowd gathered outside the capitol: Mississippi ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students who transfer from community colleges to four-year universities, beating the national average by 8 percent; community and junior college students earned 20,432 degrees, certificates and awards in 2017, a 42-percent increase over 2011; and community colleges served 551 companies with workforce training. 

“Folks, we have to pay the bill,” said MACJC President and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College president Dr. Mary Graham. “It’s time Mississippi legislators get some help for our community and junior colleges. People continue to pat community colleges on the back, saying ‘You’re doing a great job’ but continuous pats on the back without financial support begin to feel like kicks in the teeth.”

Northwest Community College Student Government Association President Adam Conner said he quit college the first time he enrolled at Northwest because of difficulties in chemistry. When he tried to return a year later, he learned he was not eligible for Pell Grant funds. Conner said he didn’t feel financially apt at the age of 18 to take out a loan so he waited until he turned 24 to be eligible for aid as an independent student. 

“A quality education provides an array of benefits but there are many barriers to success. Rising tuition, time, and financial aid restrictions keep countless Mississippians from accessing higher education,” Conner said. “Every Mississippian is entitled to opportunities for educational and professional growth.”

Dr. Andrea Mayfield, the executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board, said community colleges are the best value for the taxpayers and individuals seeking an education. 

“The community college system does it all while offering affordable college tuition and with every experience you can find at a university. But, you can also (earn a degree) and begin work without a large debt. The community college’s purpose is to put people to work and it’s the best value to Mississippi’s economy.”

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann urged community college leaders to continue to share their “good value” message because two-year colleges make a difference.  While visiting schools across the state, Hosemann said he has met first-generation college graduates and problem solvers thanks to community colleges.

Organizers said for every $1 spent on education, only 7 cents goes to community colleges, with 18 cents dedicated to institutes for higher learning and 75 cents spent on kindergarten through 12th grades. Community college leaders are asking for legislators to spend 10 cents of every dollar to educate the 100,000 students and the additional 70,024 individuals seeking skilled training through the state’s community colleges.