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Increasing emphasis on workforce training for business and industry

Coahoma CC president sees rapid growth in enrollment

CLARKSDALE — In the 12 years since Dr. Vivian Presley has been president of Coahoma Community College, one of her most gratifying accomplishments has been overseeing the rapid growth at the college, including an increasing emphasis on workforce training for business and industry.

Last year the college saw a 23% increase in enrollment. “We were really thrilled about that,” said Presley, the first and only African-American woman in Mississippi to lead a state-supported community college. “Over the past 12 years we have seen an increase in enrollment.”

Particularly significant is the amount of growth in the past three or four years. Considering the economy has been in a recession, and that the Mississippi Delta where Coahoma Community College is located in one of the most economically depressed regions in the country, the college is managing to grow and prosper through bad times.

“We have to do more with less resources,” Presley said. “That has been a real challenge. When the economy of the state is not looking that good, and as a result we’re not getting as much financial support from the state as needed, we still can’t lessen our role. We are called to do more even though we have less. People expect us to perform certain functions, and, of course, we can’t let them down.”

One reason why the college has grown so much in recent years is a change in focus. Instead of just serving traditional students who are recent graduates from high school, the college has played an increasing role providing services to non-traditional students, and business and industry. Pre-employment training by industries has been in big demand, and has reaped dividends for industry and employees. For example, the college does pre-employment training for Grand Casino, often working with people who have never had a job before.

“We give them the skills they need to be successful employees,” Presley said. “Once they go through the program, Grand Casino will interview them and usually most of them are hired. Because of the program, Grand Casino says their retention rate is a lot higher than it has been without the program.”

Presley said the college’s workforce training programs have grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years. Presley, who worked at Coahoma Community College for 17 years before being named president, recalls earlier in her career when the workforce development center was serving only about 2,000 people. Now 20,000 people per year come through the center annually for some type of training.

The college also has strong adult basic education and GED programs. And about 5,000 students from several states attend the college’s JASON technology program.

Presley says there is no doubt the programs offered through the community colleges are important to improving the economy of the area.

“For businesses and industry in the area, training is very important,” she said. “We work a lot with dislocated workers who have lost their jobs and need training in a different area. We’re in the Mississippi Delta, so the chances of new industry coming to the area are slim, although we do have some new industry coming in. But more jobs are created by existing industry expansions. We are here to help them along. The first thing industry looks at coming into an area is if training can be provided. We can provide training, and that often makes a difference.

“The community college recognizes assisting business and industry is a major part of our mission. We go to all ends to make sure we serve those entities well whether it is pre-employment, specified training or any other component of it.”

One of the issues Coahoma has faced is the challenge of being a historically black institution in the state. But Presley said because they take their role seriously, if there is a need in the community, college leaders put their heads together to meet that need.

“It might cost us additional time,” Presley said. “It might cause us to extend where we don’t have money. But I have a wonderful team working for me at the community college, and they also see the mission and role of the community college as very important. We have people who don’t mind going the extra mile to do what we have to do to provide services to our area.”

Another important trend has been towards online courses.

“Numerous students choose to take courses online,” she said. “That is becoming a major part of our mission in the past few years. In the community college system as a whole, when the virtual college started four years ago, we had about 2,000 students online. Now we have over 20,000. It grew really quickly.”

Starting in July, Presley will take on a new role heading up the President’s Association, made up of all the presidents at the state’s community and junior college.

“I’m very excited and looking forward to tenure as chair of that association,” Presley said. “We have a wonderful team of community college presidents. We work together as a group, coming together as one single unit, and that makes us very strong.”

Dr. Wayne Stonecypher, executive director of the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges, said Presley’s election as head of the President’s Association is a real honor.

“Dr. Presley will do a good job heading up all 16 colleges as far as the leadership role in the President’s Group,” Stonecypher said. “She plays a significant role in a number of areas. I have watched her work in a very quiet and professional way. She is respected on her campus and by the community college family statewide. It is not only the position she is in, but what she is doing with it. She has done a good job in every area. She is a role model for students as well as aspiring administrators, and people all over the system.”

Presley has a Ph.D. from Mississippi State University. She is a member of the board of the National League for Nursing. She is vice chair of the board of Northwest Regional Medical Center, on the board for the Mississippi Higher Education Achievement Program and on the Northwest District board for Girl Scouts.

Honors include being named 2002 Alumnus of the Year for the College of Education, MSU, a National Recognition Award by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and being named employer of the Year by the Business and Professional Women’s Organization. She was named as one of the Top 75 Business Women in the Mississippi Delta, and received the 2000 Image Award in Education.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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