Community college faculty renew plea for funding, salary increases

Mississippi has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the United States, yet the 15 community colleges, which are ideally positioned to offer the programs that impact the state’s job growth, continue to be chronically underfunded.

Mississippi has more than 40,000 job openings but the majority of those jobs require some education and training beyond high school, but not a bachelor's degree. Community college career and technical programs are demand-driven education programs tailored in each community to meet local needs.

The Mississippi Faculty Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MFACJC) wants to make sure legislators and communities understand how beneficial the community college system is to our state, said MFACJC President Mary Warren, who teaches at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

However, to make good on the promises of those benefits of a quality of education, educational resources need to improve. That includes salary increases for faculty who have not had a state-funded raise since 2008, she said.

“I can truly appreciate all the work our legislators do to make Mississippi a better place to live, but I think it’s time we fund our educational system in order to ensure our state stays a quality place in which to live, ” Warren said.

The colleges’ faculty members are at the heart of the college system, she said.

“Community colleges who replenish the workforce,” she said.

In that vein, legislators should view community college students as future workers and future earners, she said.

“If we want the future of our state planted in more fertile economic soil than it has been in for a very long time, we will have to do a few things differently than we have in the past,” she said.

Community college faculty are educating a high percentage of the state’s college students:

  • More than 60 percent of first-time college students are enrolled at Mississippi community colleges, where they can enter the job market faster and with less student debt.
  • 69 percent of 2015-16 Bachelor’s Degree graduates from Mississippi’s public universities had previously enrolled at a community college.

The Mississippi Faculty Association of Community and Junior Colleges, along with the 15 college presidents, have three funding priorities:

“Fair and equitable funding” of $62 million, which includes $37 million for restoration of funding because of budget cuts and $25 million for salary increases. Current average estimated faculty salaries are $51,213. The increase would get salaries closer to the mid-point between K-12 and university salaries, which would be 58,380.

Secondly, the colleges are requesting nearly $16 million for two workforce and development strands, $5.25 million for career-technical programs and $10.68 million for MIBEST Career Pathways. MIBEST is aimed at adults without high school diplomas who need to earn a high school credential and receive career training at the same time.

The third priority is a two-year bond bill for $150 million that includes capital improvements over two years and one year of technology upgrades.