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Record enrollment

However, budget cuts present huge challenges for two-year schools

The numbers may be preliminary, but they are still very impressive. The State Board for Community and Junior Colleges (SBCJC) reports the state’s two-year schools’ enrollment is up, way up — as in unprecedented.

The preliminary headcount, released by the SBCJC Sept. 9, found fall enrollment was up by more than 14,500 students compared to a year ago. To put this in perspective, the SBCJC said the total of the five smallest community colleges’ enrollment is approximately the same as the enrollment growth seen in these preliminary numbers.

The preliminary enrollment for the entire community and junior college system was 84,986.

It is important to note that these numbers are preliminary and have not been audited by the SBCJC. In an attempt to gather information earlier, the community and junior colleges submitted their preliminary enrollment numbers Sept. 2, the second week at most colleges. By law, final enrollment figures at community and junior colleges are captured on the last day of the sixth week of each semester.

The SBCJC reports that as the statutorily required date for capturing final enrollment approaches, it expects the 14,500 figure to decrease. However, when each college’s enrollment has been finalized, it expects there will be a substantial overall enrollment increase for Mississippi’s two-year schools.

If Hinds Community College (HCC) is any indication, the final enrollment figure will be impressive. In the third week of classes, HCC’s record-setting credit enrollment stood at more than 12,000. a 16 percent increase over the fall of 2008. With 2,000 more students on campus this fall, Mississippi’s largest two-year community college is on pace to serve nearly 30,000 credit and non-credit students this academic year. Enrollment was up 12.3 percent on the Raymond campus, nearly 20 percent on its Rankin County campus in Pearl while online enrollment showed an increase of approximately 20 percent, as well.

While thrilled, Dr. Eric Clark is not surprised by the enrollment records. President of the SBCJC, he said two-year schools’ headcount historically goes up during a recession as people lose their jobs and need to enhance their resume with extra training. It also reinforces that community and junior colleges are convenient, relatively inexpensive and effective.

“The boost in enrollment numbers show that Mississippians realize our colleges provide education, training and job skills,” said Clark, a former Mississippi secretary of state. “These are helping bring our state out of the recession faster and stronger. Our community colleges are close to home and are a great value. They are a tremendous asset to our state, and they give students a chance to make their lives better.”

According to Clark, Mississippi’s two-year institutions, before this big enrollment spike, on an average year serve 275,000 students — nearly 10 percent of the state’s total population. With roughly 85 percent of all jobs requiring some form of education or training beyond high school, he feels sure the two-year schools will continue to draw more and more students — both traditional and non-traditional.

All of this goods news is tempered somewhat by the state’s budget woes. Revenues continue to fall below projections, prompting Gov. Haley Barbour to cut an additional $171.9 million earlier this month. This cut included education, which was spared during the FY09 budget year. And, it brought practically all education entities up to a 5 percent reduction.

This creates a dilemma for the state’s two-year colleges, said Dr. Clyde Muse, president of HCC.

“This presents a real challenge for us to continue to deliver quality programs and services to this unprecedented number of students,” Muse said. “We are already operating on a lean budget, supported by an affordable tuition that makes higher education affordable for the people in our service district.”

Clark said the state’s community and junior colleges are old hands at doing more with less. He said this is both a “blessing and a curse.” The plus is that the system has demonstrated that it is a great return on investment. The schools’ value is undeniable.

“The curse is that many think we can work wonders and everything will be okay,” Clark said.

He said he was grateful to both the Legislature and Barbour for providing between $9-$10 million to the two year schools, awarded prior to the second budget cut, to help them get through the budget crunch. However, “it is a tight budget squeeze,” he said, adding there is a need for more faculty as well as more classrooms.

This leaves the two-year schools nervous as the next budget process gets underway. This year’s budget was propped up by funding under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, money that will not be available next year.

Clark said he is hopeful that the community and junior colleges do a good job of getting out to lawmakers the value they offer.

“We are preparing Mississippians for 21st century jobs,” he said. “Whether it is Northrop Grumman in Pascagoula, SeverStal in Columbus or Toyota in Blue Springs, we are the lifeblood of business and industry, and we are teaching and training Mississippians to improve their quality of life and, thus, pay more taxes.”

 

  • Coahoma Community College – 2,621
  • Copiah-Lincoln Community College – 3,882
  • East Central Community College – 2,773
  • East Mississippi Community College – 5,257
  • Hinds Community College – 12,319
  • Holmes Community College – 7,057
  • Itawamba Community College – 8,089
  • Jones County Junior College – 5,561
  • Meridian Community College – 4,205
  • Mississippi Delta Community College – 3,419
  • Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College – 10,432
  • Northeast Mississippi Community College – 3,692
  • Northwest Mississippi Community College – 8,319
  • Pearl River Community College – 5,103
  • Southwest Mississippi Community College – 2,257
  • Statewide System Total 84,986

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About Wally Northway

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