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Wayne Stonecypher: A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

State’s community colleges face familiar situation: less money

Wayne Stonecypher, Ph.D., is beginning his third year as chief of Mississippi’s State Board for Community and Junior Colleges (SBCJC) with a long to-do list.

The Lucedale native has been busy finding ways to do more with less, adapting to deep budget cuts the Mississippi Legislature has imposed on the state’s two-year colleges while preparing for increased responsibility as a result of the Workforce Training and Education Consolidation Act of 2004.

Stonecypher has plenty of experience adapting to change. A former teacher, coach, guidance counselor and Georgia-Pacific training director, the Brandon resident served as academic dean for the Hinds Community College District before joining the SBCJC as an administrator in 1997. He replaced retiring executive director Olon Ray in 2002.

He holds degrees from a mixture of private and public higher institutions: an associate of arts degree from Southeastern Junior College, a social studies degree from William Carey College, a masters degree in education from the University of Southern Mississippi, a doctorate in education counseling from Mississippi State University and a jurisprudence degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is a member of the Mississippi Bar.

The Mississippi Business Journal caught up with Stonecypher and asked him to discuss various issues affecting the state’s 15 community and junior colleges.

Mississippi Business Journal: How are the community colleges working with business and industry across the state?

Wayne Stonecypher: I would have to say that we have an excellent relationship with both the individual employers as well as the groups that provide statewide support, such as the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the Mississippi Economic Council. Our most recent information indicates that we trained over 156,000 employees in fiscal year 2003 and anticipate a higher number for fiscal year 2004. Our surveys also indicate that the employers are satisfied with the quality and quantity of training provided.

However, as we often say, it is imperative for us to evaluate ourselves, the agency and system on a daily basis to see how we can make a good system better.

MBJ: How are the community colleges working with economic developers to further the state’s goals of economic expansion?

WS: We as a system are involved on a regular basis with state, regional and local economic development activities. One of the most frequently raised topics of discussion is the quality of our workforce and the available training that can be provided for the prospective employer. At times, I think that Dexter Holloway, who is our director of workforce education, spends as much time on economic development as he does on the day-to-day workforce functions.

MBJ: How have state legislative budget cuts affected the responsibility community colleges have for workforce training?

WS: For fiscal year 2005, we were able to break even with our workforce budget for projects. The State Board got cut $720,000 (or 18%) of our non-flow- through dollars. This required us to make some serious cuts and reallocation to the State Board budget, including moving a number of individuals who were funded with state dollars to federal dollars and one-time funds. This can work for one year. However, in the long run, we will have to get these state dollars back to maintain our staff.

MBJ: What is the impact to the community colleges of the new Mississippi Workforce Training and Education Consolidation Act of 2004?

WS: The new Workforce Training and Education Consolidation Act has a great deal of potential to help move Mississippi forward in a much more coordinated effort as we move to one state board and see the local community and junior colleges much more involved in the operation of the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Our goal is to help improve the level of skills of our citizens so that they can provide a better standard of living for themselves and their families. At the same time, our current and future employers will be able to have a workforce that will allow them to be profitable and add jobs for our citizens.

MBJ: The Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) have authorized tuition increases at the state universities for the new school year. What is the status of possible increases in the community college system?

WS: The increase in tuition at the IHL institutions will have a minimum impact on community and junior college enrollment. The rationale for this lies with the fact that the community and junior colleges have had to increase their own tuition by an average of $72. The community and junior colleges had a loss of almost $3 million, yet the funding formula lost over $6 million. Of interest, IHL has lost 7% during the period of time since fiscal year 2000, while the community and junior colleges have lost 17% during this same time period.

MBJ: After two years as executive director of the State Board, what do you see as the biggest challenge ahead for the state’s community college system?

WS: Obviously, our biggest short and long-term goal is to find necessary and sufficient funds for our colleges and the State Board. A part of this effort includes developing a closer relationship with our local boards of supervisors. Only 10% of our funds come from the counties. As the amount of state funds increase (as a percentage of the total), the possibility of more state control and erosion of local autonomy and control will occur, which will cause a negative impact to our outstanding community and junior college system. Next, we need to find a stable, dedicated source of funding for workforce education.

Thirdly, we have to get a fair share of state funding. We have had the greatest growth in enrollment since fiscal year 2000; yet we have had the greatest amount of cuts as a percentage of the total. One major goal is to continue to improve the quality of our instructional efforts in all aspects of our mission to include academic, career/technical, workforce and adult basic education (literacy). We are proud of the job done by our faculty, yet as stated earlier, we strive to improve our agency, our outstanding system and ourselves.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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