Community college budget cuts: ‘It’s all over the place’

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Mississippi Today

Mississippi Community College Board members at the June monthly meeting.

Budgets for Mississippi’s 15 community colleges have been reduced $28 million dollars by the Legislature during the past fiscal year.

Their recovery plans: raise tuition by 13 percent, cut 250 jobs and drop at least one intercollegiate sport at several schools.

“It’s all over the place,” said Deborah Gilbert, finance and administration officer for the Mississippi Community College Board.

On Friday, the board requested $37 million in restoration funds for community colleges as well as $25 million for salary increases from the Legislature in the 2018 session.

Board chairman Lee Bush acknowledged that neighboring Tennessee will offer free tuition for eligible residents to attend any of the 13 community colleges in the state this fall, an expansion of The Tennessee Promise program. Legislators there voted in 2014 to allocate $34 million from lottery funds per year to cover tuition for a two-year degree at a community college.

“(Mississippi) community college presidents have done so much with so little for so long. Now the state thinks they can do anything with nothing,” said Bush.

MCCB

Lee Bush, chairman of the Mississippi Community College Board.

The state provided on average 55.5 percent of the college’s budgets in 2000. Currently, it’s 39 percent, said Gilbert. 

Between fiscal year 2016 and 2018, Mississippi Delta Community College in Moorhead took the largest appropriation decrease of 15.5 percent, with East Central Community College in Decatur and Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia coming in a close second with a 14.6  percent decrease.

In response, the average tuition and fees at all community colleges will increase to $3,104 annually, up from $2,748.

“Keep in mind, this is a great value that’s 50 percent or less than attending a university,” Dr. Jesse Smith, outgoing president at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, said during the meeting.

“We do know that people love our community colleges. But I don’t think they really know the value of the financial strain or risk,” said Smith. “We want Mississippi to reinvest in its community colleges.”

Other areas of the recovery plan include reducing travel, deferring maintenance for campus buildings and equipment, reducing student employment on campus and closing career-tech programs.

Elimination of athletic programs will save $432,827. Among those being cut: golf and tennis, Northwest Community College; golf and tennis, Northeast Community College; tennis, Holmes Community College; golf, East Mississippi Community college; soccer, Copiah Lincoln Community College

Other program expenditures and institutional scholarship reductions total $1.3 million.

“Some legislators have criticized community colleges for using general funds to support athletics,” said Gilbert. “It was stated that we should be able to, from our constituents, raise funds to support it. Not the state.”

“On a university level how many sports are self-sustaining?,” asked board member Johnny McRight. “I was told one. The rest of them cost money.”