Brooke DeRenzis, state network director, National Skills Coalition

One year after MI-BEST enrolled its first students at the state’s 15 community colleges, proponents of the program told the House Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday that they are successfully addressing the high school dropout crisis.

MI-BEST  — Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training  — is a workforce development initiative focused on enhancing the state’s economic competitiveness. Enrollment in the program has increased from 185 students in spring 2016 to 1,204 students in spring 2017.

“There is a middle-skill gap in the state. Closing that skill gap is important for workers,

employers and the overall economy of this state,” Brooke DeRenzis, state network director of the National Skills Coalition, told legislators. Representatives from Mississippi’s community colleges also presented at the meeting.

According to the skills coalition, middle-skill jobs, which require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree, account for 58 percent of the labor market in Mississippi, but only 50 percent of the state’s workers are trained to fill these positions.

MI-BEST enrolls high school dropouts and other non-traditional students into high school equivalency preparation and career and technical education or workforce classes.

Those who finish the program will achieve a high school equivalency diploma and a career readiness certificate and complete a minimum 20 contact hours of employability/life skills training and work-based learning opportunities.

In two semesters, 49 students have gained and retained employment in their field of study. Sixty students are continuing their higher education after obtaining their first credential or certificate.

Napoleon Miller told members of the House that after growing up in foster homes and going from one dead-end job to the next, he turned his life around with the MI-BEST program.

“My goal is to get a job in the manufacturing field to support myself and have a stable life,” Miller said. Miller has obtained his GED, a number of certificates and is currently working on his associate degree in applied sciences.

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Ashley F.G. Norwood

Ashley F. G. Norwood, a native of Jackson, earned a bachelor's degree in English from Jackson State University and a master’s degree from the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. Norwood, who specializes in multimedia journalism, has been recognized nationally for her documentary film the fly in the buttermilk, which covers the history, perceptions and principles of black Greek-lettered organizations at the University of Mississippi.