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It’s not surprising to see junior college enrollment up

Student enrollment in credit classes at Mississippi’s 15 community colleges has increased by 10.7 percent from the spring semester of 2008 to the spring semester of 2009, according to preliminary numbers released by the State Board of Community and Junior Colleges (SBCJC).

Spring 2009 enrollment is 69,791, or an increase of 6,740 from a year ago. This is on top of a preliminary increase of 8.2 percent from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008.

Eric Clark, executive director of the SBCJC, said this dramatic increase is not a surprise, given the national recession.

“Historically, community college enrollment goes up when the economy turns down,” he said. “People who have lost jobs or fear losing jobs need to improve their skills, and the community colleges teach our citizens new job skills that prepare them for 21st century jobs. When you consider that community colleges are close to home and convenient and a great value, it is a wise decision for our citizens to go back to school so they can provide a better life for their families. The fact is, investing in our community colleges is the best thing our state can do to help us come out of the recession faster and stronger.”

There is another thought to consider — the new funding formula passed by Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), which will cut funding to small colleges.

The trickle down effect of that starts with the universities having to raise tuition to help offset some of the monies that will not be appropriated by the state.

From there, students and their parents are forced to make tough decisions, particularly based on the economic times that we live in.

Do you pay to send your child to a four-year school with a much higher tuition, or do you put off the higher price for a couple of years and send them to one of our fine community colleges?

So, it is a double-edged sword.

Yes, it is great that community college enrollment is going up. We do have a fine set of community colleges that provide a great educational service to the young people of Mississippi.

However, it is important to understand that the skyrocketing enrollment comes at the expense of universities like Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, Mississippi University for Women and Delta State.

To a lesser degree, the cutbacks that the entire university system has had to endure because of the recession has caused an increase in tuition at Mississippi State, The University of Mississippi, Southern Miss and Jackson State.

Let’s be sure that we understand that the community college system is a great system. And I am, in no way, suggesting that students attending community colleges are receiving less of an education.

I just think it is important to realize that, while the recession has played an important part of the community college enrollment spike, there have also been decisions made by those at the IHL and in the Mississippi Legislature that led to this event.

Contact MBJ managing editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com.

About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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