Growth helps EMCC stave off budget cuts

December 5, 2009 9:43:00 PM

Jason Browne - [email protected]


At a time when Mississippi universities are considering major changes to academic programs to survive state budget cuts, East Mississippi Community College isn''t changing a thing. 


At least, not when it comes to academic and student programs. 


EMCC President Dr. Rick Young says the state''s sixth-largest community college has made moves to save money, but a 19 percent increase in enrollment -- the highest in the state -- has spared the school from major changes. 


Young admits EMCC isn''t out of the woods yet. Gov. Haley Barbour trimmed an additional $53 million from the state budget Thursday after his first round of cuts in September struck 5 percent from the state''s education budget. Young says EMCC could face as much as a 20 percent cut in fiscal year 2010-11, but he remains optimistic. 


"This can''t last forever," he said of the economic downturn and budget cuts. "(Barbour) is basing his projections on being very conservative, on the worst scenario of what our economy is going to do." 


EMCC recently raised tuition 10 percent to $880 per semester as its total enrollment grew to 5,141 in September. Additionally, EMCC''s five campuses receive millage from each of the six counties (Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay, Noxubee, Kemper and Lauderdale) in the district they serve. 


The school has also taken proactive steps to save money by employing adjunct and retired instructors at cheaper rates, along with replacing retiring professors with younger instructors. 


"We hire younger people that show a lot of promise," said Young. "New hires will make less than those who are retiring. We just want to grow some new talent." 


The school also partners with industries such as East Mississippi Electric Power Association, which funds the lineman program at the Scooba campus, and receives private business donations to fund its Tuition Guarantee program. Tuition Guarantee offers a full academic scholarship to any student finishing secondary school -- public, private or home school -- in any of EMCC''s district counties. 


Those proactive moves, along with increased state funds due to increased enrollment, gives Young confidence EMCC won''t be forced to compromise academic programs. The extent of the school''s struggles, he estimates, could find EMCC''s campuses being forced to accommodate more students next year on a budget equal to 2009-10. 


Nor does he intend to consider closing satellite campuses as the governor suggested, unless the state Legislature mandates the move. 


"I take everything the governor says seriously, but until we''re told that we have to do it, I''m not going to worry about it," he said. 


The Golden Triangle campus, a satellite campus located in Mayhew, is EMCC''s largest. 


A state order to consolidate campuses is unlikely, says Young, because they are more geared toward workforce training and adult basic education, both of which bolster the state''s employment rate. 


"EMCC leads the state in workforce training services. That''s measured by the number of industries served, the number of people served, the number of hours of training delivered and the amount of money brought in, which is millions," said Young. "If Ellis Steel in West Point has a training need, then we write a project that we can deliver that training. International Military and Government, Babcock and Wilcox, those are the interests we serve." 


In terms of academics, Young says the number of students needed at the West Point campus, EMCC''s smallest, to pay the cost of an instructor is eight per class. 


"All we''re interested in is breaking even," he said. 


Another of Barbour''s suggestions to community colleges, but not universities, was to cut athletic programs. He claims community colleges could save the state up to $20 million by trimming athletics. 


Young admits community colleges could save money by cutting athletics -- EMCC generally recoups 15-20 percent of athletic funding through ticket and merchandise sales -- but he takes issue with the exclusion of universities. 


"If it''s across the board and every school does it, then obviously we would. Until it comes down to the cut, we''re full steam ahead," he said. 


Young says the true value of athletics is the number of students it attracts who otherwise wouldn''t have attended EMCC. 


"We''ve got a lot of people coming into community colleges that normally wouldn''t if not for something extracurricular," he said. "I think that is a tremendous part of the package and every bit as important as on the university level."