Points of pride, plans for growth and needs for additional funding were a few of the topics stressed by Meridian Community College President Dr. Thomas Huebner when MCC hosted its fall legislative luncheon Thursday on the MCC campus.
Lawmakers including Meridian City Council members, state senators, representatives, City of Meridian officials and Lauderdale County supervisors joined with MCC faculty and staff to learn about the needs for MCC and all state community colleges.
“By nature, I try to be an optimist, so I look for positives. I have a feeling that right now things are coalescing in a positive direction for Meridian and Lauderdale County and I am grateful for your leadership and willingness to embrace this college and the opportunities we have here,” Huebner said to the audience.
Noting that Mississippi has the oldest community college system in the nation, Mississippi community colleges were listed as No. 1 in the nation for cost, classroom experience and educational career outcomes in 2015. However, that number has fallen to No. 22.
“With increased budget support the state could climb back into the top spot again,” Huebner said.
The numbers he presented stressed the case for additional funding. A majority of Mississippi students – 57 percent - start at a community college. And the state ranked fourth in the nation in the percentage of students who transfer from community colleges to four-year colleges and universities. “Community colleges are the greatest value in higher education,” he said. “For every state tax dollar invested in community colleges, Mississippi gets back a 386 percent net return,” he said.
For the fiscal year 2020, Mississippi community colleges are requesting a $7 million increase in funding for cost-sharing models for dual credit and high school students, community college employee sustainability, financial support to invest in new career and technical programs, replace equipment in career and technical programs and funding for MI-BEST Career pathways dropout recovery and technology, infrastructure and maintenance.
Closer to home, Huebner pointed out that from 2011 to 2017, the number of graduates earning a degree or certificate from MCC has increased by 7 percent and in last year alone, MCC awarded 929 degrees. “That’s an all-time record,” he said, noting that some graduates may earn more than one degree.
He also reminded solons of MCC’s Phil Hardin Foundation Honors College at Meridian Community College’s growth from 12 students in 2012 to 70 this year; corporate partnerships including that of DEWALT, Under Armor and AT&T and achievements by MCC scholar-athletes.
Huebner said College officials are developing a strategic plan to serve as a roadmap to the future of the college. “We’re building our long-range plan from there,” he said.
Students, though, are the college’s focus. “When students come here, doors open. They see opportunities sometimes for the first time and when they do, whole families change, trajectories change and when that happens communities change. Jobs come. When that happens, we create a whole different ballgame for Meridian and Lauderdale County,” he said.
He applauded lawmakers’ work and thanked them for their support. Huebner said, “I know you believe in us and we are genuinely appreciative.”
Meridian Community College President Dr. Thomas Huebner, left, greets City of Meridian CAO Richie McAlister at a luncheon held on MCC campus Thursday.
State Rep. Michael Evans, left, shares a laugh with State Sen. Sampson Jackson at a luncheon held on the Meridian Community College campus Thursday.