The Mississippi Business Journal is not inherently a political publication. We view our mission as reporters and advocates for the business community. However, when we see a political issue of business significance, we join the fray.
A little elementary economics seems in order. In large part, Mississippi’s workforce is untrained, a diamond in the rough. The world is changing at a dizzying speed, all changes point toward an increasingly high-tech society. Old, low-paying, manual labor jobs are disappearing like the wild goose in winter. In order for our state to prosper, we need to train our untrained and retrain our workers whose skills are for dead jobs. There is no other way.
What is prosperity anyway? I suppose everyone would have their own opinion. It seems to me that a good measure of improving prosperity would be increasing the average wage rate for Mississippi workers. This entails converting $6-an-hour jobs to $8-an-hour jobs, and then to $11. How are we going to do it?
Mississippi’s workforce needs a massive dose of job training. Currently, this task is being admirably performed by our community colleges. They are conveniently located all over the state and are in touch with their employer community. Though this is not intended as an advertisement for community colleges, I feel compelled to note that our community college system is so good that it has been used as a model by other states.
This is a subject with which I am personally familiar. My wife, our children and myself are all products of a community college education. For the initial two years of college and technical training of all sorts, community colleges are one of the best things Mississippi has going for it.
The Legislature has adequately funded the community colleges in recent years. There is never enough tax money to go around, but the funding level has been OK. The scenario has changed for this year. Tax shortfalls are causing the Legislature to tighten their fiscal belts. Education in Mississippi is divided into three neat categories: K-12, four-year colleges and community colleges. Funding for K-12 and four-year colleges are somewhat protected by judicial decisions layed down in the Ayers discrimination lawsuit. Unfortunately, the community colleges enjoy no such protection and are scheduled to take the brunt of the budget cuts on the chin.
At present, funding for community colleges is scheduled to decrease by about $18 million next year. This can’t happen! Mississippi has enticed employers to bring higher-paying jobs into the state with the assurance of continuing support for job training. If we falter in our support, the flow of better jobs will dwindle, our credibility will tarnish and we will be left where we have been in the past. There will be no increasing the average wage rate for Mississippi workers and, hence, no increased prosperity for Mississippi.
I realize that the Legislature is faced with difficult choices. Public teacher pay needs to be increased, roads need repair and our public defender system is in shambles. Not intending to minimize the severity of the task at hand or the difficulty of the choices, this is not the time to take our hand from the plow.
Many state programs merely subsidize people where they are. Worker training is an investment that permanently improves all of society. If there is no other way, lowering the subsidies that do not result in real improvement in people’s lives to fund workforce training is a difficult choice that should be made. The political cost of staying the course will be high, however, we simply cannot depart from the path we are on.
This is the time the Legislature is forming the budget for next year. If this column has struck a nerve with you, let your voice be heard. Contact your legislator and let them know that you will not stand for cutting the community college funding for next year. Get the marbles out of someone else’s bag. Keeping the “Mississippi Miracle” alive depends on maintaining our funding commitment to our community colleges.
THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
— James 1:12
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.