By ALEX JACKS
Community colleges across the state are taking a hit as Mississippi legislators make budget cuts in all sectors. To compensate for the budget cuts, all 15 junior colleges in Mississippi recently announced that tuition will be increased by an average of 13 percent this fall.
Hinds Community College in Jackson increased its tuition rates this year in order to balance the Fiscal 2018 budget, said Russell Shaw, Hinds vice president for business services.
“The Mississippi state appropriations were drastically cut during the last two fiscal years,” Shaw said. “Hinds Community College just implemented a 6 percent expense reduction to the FY2018 budget. The tuition increase was a 9 percent increase year over year, and in conjunction with the expense reduction was needed to have a balanced budget.”
Hinds Community College Vice President of Workforce Development and Coordinator of Career/Technical Education Chad Stokes anticipates the burdens of increased tuition will affect the college’s enrollment numbers in traditional programs and through the amount of workforce training the college can administer.
“The tuition increase and budget cuts could hurt the level of work-force training that we conduct at Hinds Community College because some students may not be able to cover 100 percent of their tuition, tools and supplies needed to be successful in the training,” he said. “The tuition increase could keep prospective students from entering our formalized training.”
The budget cuts are also preventing Hinds Community College from adding faculty and improving facilities in high growth workforce training programs, Stokes said.
“Work-force training at Hinds Community College could also be impacted because budget cuts could affect attracting and retaining good, qualified faculty,” he said.
Hinds Community College is dedicated to providing current and prospective businesses and industries in its district a well-trained, highly skilled workforce, Stokes said.
“This enables our community to retain and grow existing businesses and industries as well as to attract new ones,” he said. “The college works with industry partners to identify skills gaps in the workforce and then customize training programs to meet that demand.”
Hinds Community College has streamlined current and future work-force training in the following five sectors — Transportation, distribution and logistics; advanced manufacturing; cyber security; precision agriculture; and health care.
“Labor statistics and feedback from employer partners in the Hinds Community College’s service area shows that these sectors consistently bring high growth and high demand with favorable wage scales,” Stokes said.
Hinds Community College’s Commercial Truck Driving Academy serves as one example of the college’s leading edge, industry driven workforce training, he said.
“In an effort to train low-skilled adults for middle-skilled, self-sustaining employment, the Hinds Community College collaborated with KLLM Transport Services to develop the nationally recognized Academy,” Stokes said. “The college starts a new, 22-day training program every Monday. After an internship, successful participants are trained for employment at a self-sustaining, living wage job. A recent evaluation of this program showed that 77 percent of the participants enter employment and 70 percent of the participants are retained in employment 9 months after training. This innovative model has improved the company’s retention of employees and has been replicated in Dallas and Chicago.”
Despite the success of Hinds Community College’s workforce training programs, Stokes fears that the budget cuts and tuition increases will hurt programs all around, but that is not stopping him from pushing forward.
“Hinds Community College will continue to do all it can to keep tuition and fees as low as possible while maintaining a balanced budget,” he said.
Other junior colleges across the state expect tuition increases and budget cuts to affect their work-force training programs, as well. Here are the tuition rates each college has approved, as well as the percentage change from the 2016-2017 academic year, according to the Mississippi Community College Board:
» Coahoma: $2,870, 7.5 percent
» Copiah-Lincoln: $3,180, 16.5 percent
» East Central: $2,790, 19.7 percent
» East Mississippi: $3,240, 14.1
» Hinds: $3,080, 8.5 percent
» Holmes: $3,110, 13.5 percent
» Itawamba: $2,800, 7.7 percent
» Jones: $3,480, 16 percent
» Meridian: $2,914, 15.9 percent
» Mississippi Delta: $3,060, 16.8 percent
» Mississippi Gulf Coast: $3,220, 5.9 percent
» Northeast Mississippi: $3,202, 18.5 percent
» Northwest Mississippi: $3,000, 7.1 percent
» Pearl River: $3,410, 14 percent
» Southwest Mississippi: $3,200, 14.3 percent.