The American Association of Community Colleges has selected the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (MIBEST) initiative as one of its four finalists for its 2017 College/Corporate Partnership Award of Excellence.

The association, which describes itself as “advancing the recognition of the role of community colleges in serving society today,” will announce winners at its 97th annual meeting in New Orleans on April 24.

MIBEST is helping to better our state, said Gov. Phil Bryant.

“The program provides an opportunity for these individuals to earn workforce and community college credentials and a career pathway to a middle-skill occupation where there is a labor demand. MIBEST sets program participants on the path to good wages and career advancement,” added Bryant.

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.

“MIBEST helps transform high school drop-outs into skilled and productive workers who can better care for their families and contribute to our state’s economy,” said Kenneth Wheatley, MIBEST program director for the Mississippi Community College Board.

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.

Enrollment in the program has increased from 185 students in spring 2016 to 1,204 students in spring 2017.

“MIBEST works because of the strong collaboration among the 15 community and junior colleges, our business partners, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation,” said Dr. Andrea Mayfield, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board.  The program is currently funded through a three-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“Each faculty member really wants you to succeed. They don’t give you the option to fail,” said Alonso Hernandez, a MIBEST student at Jones County Junior College. “It’s up to you to show up and do your best, but they really encourage you, while setting the bar high. It makes you want to increase your skills and just to be better in life.”

Other nominees for the College/Corporate Award of Excellence are Catawba Valley Community College in North Carolina, Lee College in Texas and Olympic College in Washington.

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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.