Hail to the Chief – Time is Right for Free Tuition

Hail to the Chief – Time is Right for Free Tuition

When President Barak Obama unveiled his “America’s College Promise” proposal on Jan. 7, his presentation struck a chord with two-year institution students and leaders throughout the country. The President’s plan, if it survives the political minefield that can be our nation’s capital, would make two years of community college free for students who maintain a 2.5 grade-point average and make steady progress toward completion of a certificate or degree.

Considering that public, two-year colleges serve nearly 40 percent of all of the undergraduates in the country, free tuition is an idea whose time has come. Inspired by successful initiatives in Tennessee and Chicago, the plan could dramatically benefit as many as 9 million students from coast to coast.

President Obama is asking the country to think about education in a new way while working toward a goal of making two years of higher learning “as free and universal as high school.”

America’s College Promise would certainly aid students interested in Mid-South Community College. While our institution takes great pride in keeping tuition low, we recognize that some people remain disenfranchised from higher education. Federal Pell Grants help the majority of our students, but we still have a significant number of potential enrollees who have no hope of career advancement because they earn too much money to qualify for governmental assistance. Two free years of college would go a long way toward encouraging more people in our historically disadvantaged region to access the great technical and general education programs available on our campus.

President Obama’s proposal calls for federal funding to cover 75% of the tuition cost, and states would be required to provide the remaining amount. Participating states would be required to commit to continue existing investments in higher education; coordinate high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions to reduce the need for remediation and repeated courses; and allocate a significant portion of funding based on performance, not enrollment alone. Those are all worthy goals.

Mid-South Community College is already addressing many of those issues, and we are partnering with major companies, universities, and local public school systems to eliminate duplicated efforts and create a training system designed to prepare our students for employment. At the end of the day, we want to put people to work. In some situations, we can help students find jobs without them spending two years in a classroom. Our technology-focused programs can prepare them for lucrative careers in shorter time spans, and having free tuition for those opportunities would serve as a powerful tool toward that end.

In addition to free tuition, political and educational leaders need to, as the President suggested, view education in a different way. Based on the growing “skills gap” in our nation, the traditional general education model simply isn’t working. I am certainly not opposed to people completing general education courses and programs, but the reason for certificates and degrees has not been driven by a model to put people to work, at least in recent years. It has been driven by a model that forces technical education students into general education requirements often not needed for the career they want to pursue.

One of our math instructors has told me on multiple occasions that College Algebra was never intended for the masses, but many degrees in the traditional educational model require it. Why? If higher education were starting from scratch, it would include technical math and writing courses that would more than meet the needs of employers. We must keep pushing for contextualized general education based on workplace competencies. That approach would allow us to create and sustain effective learning models that keep our folks from falling through the cracks.

Adult Education Program Providing Second Chances

Adult Education Program Providing Second Chances

The most recent U.S. Census (2010) indicated that as many as 39 million Americans lack a high school credential. That astronomically-high number represents about 18 percent of the nation’s adult population and also represents hopelessness. Mid-South Community College’s Adult Education program is doing its part to decrease those figures and increase the hopes and opportunities of people in our region.

Under the direction of Donnylle Hampton, our staff members are working with teenagers through senior citizens to help them improve their educational skills. Our ultimate goal is to prepare them for the General Educational Development (GED®) Test and college-level work.

Our Adult Ed students come from all walks of life and from all backgrounds but have at least one thing in common – they want to improve their circumstances. Most of them finished junior high but dropped out before high school graduation. They are not any less intelligent than people who have earned a high school diploma, and many are quite bright when armed with the right tools. They have been deterred, however, by one or more life circumstances that have hindered their opportunities to move forward educationally.

Our program operates under the oversight of the Arkansas Department of Career Education which espouses the following philosophy:

  • All adults can learn.
  • All adults have the right to education that enhances their ability to effect positive changes in their lives.
  • All adults have the right to obtain the life skills that they need to become self- sufficient, actively participating members of society.
  • All adults have the right to complete their education through the high school level.

General adult education is designed to assist adults (defined as anyone 16 years of age or older) who are functioning on at least the ninth-grade level. It is a powerful and absolutely necessary tool to meet the needs of citizens who have fallen through the cracks of our traditional high school model. A high school credential has become a basic, bare minimum requirement for even low-wage, low-skill jobs, so men and women who do not possess one are finding themselves with little hope of fending for themselves or providing for a family.

Earning a GED is far from easy, especially with the latest exam updated in 2014. Unlike its predecessors, the new GED test requires “higher order thinking.” More of the questions require thoughtful, written responses, and the test includes fewer multiple-choice items where students have the opportunity to guess rather than demonstrate true subject comprehension. A more rigorous educational evaluation tool is needed because the skills required for today’s jobs are increasing dramatically. Even a high school equivalency isn’t really enough for today’s high-tech world, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

During a recent meeting on our campus, I made the comment, “If you can pass the new GED, you can almost teach at the college level.” While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, students who do well on the new GED are very well prepared for additional education. As an illustration, we have 10 recent GED graduates enrolled in MSCC classes for the first time this spring. The majority of them scored high enough on a placement exam to move directly into college-level work, saving them time and money that would have been spent on developmental classes. The students are that much closer to a college certificate or degree, and their opportunity for success is greatly enhanced.

We are proud of the phenomenal success of our Adult Education program, but we are even more proud of the students who have taken this major step toward a better future. Returning to the classroom is difficult at any age, so we applaud these students for their efforts and accomplishments. We look forward to the opportunity to help them continue their education, and we will do everything possible to assist them in becoming successful on the college level as well.

Merger With ASU System Becomes Official, Takes Effect July 1

Merger With ASU System Becomes Official, Takes Effect July 1

Mid-South Community College has taken a historic step forward by joining the Arkansas State University System. Both boards approved a merger agreement on Jan. 9, and the change will take effect on July 1, pending approval by our mutual accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. Our campus will become known as Arkansas State University Mid-South.

The merger will provide great benefits, some of which we probably haven’t even contemplated at this point. First and foremost, the strengthened partnership puts our institution in a position to have the workforce training funding conversation elevated to the highest possible level politically, and we need that. The best thing that can happen to MSCC is to have the State of Arkansas change the higher education funding formula, particularly as it relates to workforce education. I have already been asked to provide suggestions to people who probably would not have solicited my input if not for the merger.

The fusion of our institutions also gives the ASU System the opportunity to expand its offerings to the Memphis metro region. ASU can’t offer classes in Tennessee, but it can offer courses and programs on our campus that are marketable to people throughout the region. That means the access for the people in Crittenden County skyrockets. More access to baccalaureate-level degrees is obviously a great thing for our community and institution.

ASU’s history of dealing with its system institutions has been one of allowing for a great deal of individuality and diversity. I am confident that the ASU System has no desire to change who we are; they simply want to help us have the opportunity to be even better. I can’t envision ASU doing anything other than expanding programming on our campus, whether it’s a four-year degree or helping us identify resources that will help us continue to grow and add appropriate certificate and associate degree programs.

When God afforded us an opportunity 23 years ago to create new educational models for the region, we were excited. We may not have known exactly what we were doing, but we knew that it was important. We have taken that responsibility extremely seriously, and it is a matter of moral conviction to us. It would have been really easy on our board, our employees, and the president to rest on our laurels, but this institution has never taken the easy road.

We still have battles to fight, and we need more assistance, resources, and help than we can ever gather up ourselves. That’s why we pursued an enhanced alliance with the ASU System. Dr. Charles Welch (ASU System president) has been where we are, and he understands what we’re trying to accomplish, and that’s important.

Nothing stays the same forever. Places that continue to achieve and sustain success are the ones that don’t lose their way in terms of their focus. Based on the knowledge of who and what we are and where we want to go, merging with a group of people who want to see us be successful and who can bring a number of resources to our equation that we could never access on our own is absolutely the best thing for our institution at this point in our existence. Our job is to take advantage of all opportunities to capture every resource, every bit of energy, every thought, and every effort to enhance life-changing opportunities for our students. This merger clearly accomplishes that.

College Resolves to Keep Students No. 1

College Resolves to Keep Students No. 1

The New Year has arrived, and if 2014 statistics hold true, many resolutions made a mere week ago have already been abandoned. According to information compiled by the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology, 25 percent of the people who profess to making resolutions fail to maintain their determination beyond the first week. By the end of the 12-month period, nearly half of all those who vowed to change something about themselves admit to infrequent success or abject failure. We’re going to do better than that.

While Mid-South Community College, as an institution, can’t resolve to lose weight or quit smoking, it can commit to keeping students No. 1 for another year. We already adhere to a “10 Commandments” of student treatment and recognition (posted in all of our buildings), and we hereby resolve to strengthen our commitment to those ideals.

  1. For MSCC, students are the most important people in the world. They have entrusted us with their futures, and it’s our job to help them create better lives for themselves, their families, and our community. Mid-South employees have unbelievable opportunities to really make a difference, and we continue to take those opportunities seriously.
  2. Students are not dependent on us; we are dependent on them. Our sole purpose is to help people achieve their goals, whether that’s completing a single class or an entire educational/training program that gives them a chance to create unparalleled career opportunities.
  3. Students are not an interruption of our work but the purpose of it. They energize and challenge us to do our best. We all understand that our students come from diverse backgrounds, face different challenges, and have special needs in their pursuit of higher education. Ours is a people business, and we make time to meet their needs.
  4. Students do us a favor when they call or visit our campus or take classes here. Today’s educational opportunities are many and varied, so we are honored when someone selects our campus. Our goal is to reward them with the best learning and nurturing environment known to man.
  5. Students are not cold statistics but are flesh-and-blood human beings with feelings and emotions like our own. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we felt unsure, and we call on those memories to help us work with students effectivetly. We understand that the entire educational process can be scary and even intimidating at times, and we are committed to helping students navigate it as smoothly as possible.
  6. Students are our business, not outsiders. Mid-South Community College belongs to those who take advantage of our offerings, and we have worked diligently to create an atmosphere of family on our campus – a family that includes students, staff, and community members.
  7. A student is not someone to argue with or try to outwit. We strive to make our students comfortable so they can pursue their dreams with confidence and assurance.
  8. A student is a person who brings us his/her wants, and it is our job to do our best to fill those wants. Obviously, we can’t grant every wish, but we work with students to make the path to a brighter future as smooth as possible.
  9. Students are deserving of the most courteous and attentive treatment we can give. We frequently stress to our employees the importance of hospitality and good, old-fashioned manners in dealing with students. We often hear the same questions over and over, but we strive to answer them as fully and as nicely the 100th time as we did the 1st.
  10. Essentially, students make it possible for all MSCC employees to earn a paycheck whether they work in the classroom, in an administrative office, or at the president’s desk. They provide us with amazing opportunities to advance our citizens and communities to new heights.

While those “commandments” aren’t engraved on stone tablets, they are certainly indelibly etched into the hearts of MSCC employees. Our resolution for 2015 is to continue doing all we can to keep Mid-South Community College the very best place on the planet for higher education.

MSCC Enjoys Banner Year, Blessings in 2014

MSCC Enjoys Banner Year, Blessings in 2014

It hardly seems possible, but the days of December have wound down, and 2014 is history. Mid-South Community College enjoyed another banner year highlighted by many accomplishments and more than a few instances of divine intervention.

In January 2014, The Manufacturing Institute recognized our welding program for teaching to industry standards. Also in the tech world, instructors Gary Giordano and Kelly Bearden earned 18 National Institute for Metalworking Skills certifications, an amazing feat and an important step toward overall program accreditation.

In February, the Higher Learning Commission granted continued accreditation to our institution, and the Assisi Foundation of Memphis awarded us a $325,000 grant. The funding is helping us with construction costs of a training facility in support of the Jeremy M. Jacobs Hospitality Program and the Delta Cuisine Kitchen Incubator project.

In March, MSCC’s men’s and women’s basketball teams made history with their first postseason victories as well as a pair of Region 2 Tournament championships. In the academic realm, the College established a chapter of Sigma Kappa Delta, the National English Honor Society, and inducted charter members.

In April, MSCC and Southwest Tennessee Community College sponsored an Employer Forum on our campus, the first formal event of The Greater Memphis Workforce Development Institute. Also that month, Mid-South students won eight medals at the Arkansas SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Championship, taking our overall award count to 146 since joining the competition in 2007.

In May, we officially relaunched the historic KWEM Radio station which we believe has great potential for the future of Crittenden County. The special event drew the attention of world-wide media, and the New York Times covered the festivities.

In June, MSCC student/employee Robert Smith received one of 50 nationwide scholarships to attend the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. Also that month, Lori Forrester, who coordinates our Teacher Education program, detailed the success of our efforts to supply eastern Arkansas classrooms with “home grown” talent. She said the program has produced more than 60 graduates, many of whom are working in local school districts.

In August, three MSCC Aviation Maintenance students earned NASA/Arkansas Space Grant Consortium scholarships, and another of our students received a $10,000 Hino Motors Manufacturing U.S.A., Inc. scholarship. On a slightly different front, Andy Stoglin, who gave our athletic program instant credibility four years ago, returned as head coach of the Lady Greyhounds.

In September, FedEx Express demonstrated its long-term commitment to our Aviation Maintenance Technology program with a $250,000 gift. We are using the funds toward construction of the “FedEx Aviation Technology Center” which will allow us to enhance and expand our program. We also took another step toward a world-class Hospitality Management program with a ceremonial groundbreaking for the $2.2 million Jeremy Jacobs Hospitality Center.

In October, our institution, in conjunction with the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, received formal notice of a $9.8 million grant focusing on employment-directed training. We also announced creation of a Construction Technology program to prepare area citizens for jobs with Big River Steel.

In November, Bill Clinton, no stranger to the MSCC campus, returned to talk about the general election and its impact on our families, communities, and state. Also that month, a project led by Memphis Bioworks received formal notification of an $8 million U.S. Department of Labor grant that included MSCC as an educational/training partner. To cap an eventful month, our Board of Trustees began conversations with the Arkansas State University System about a possible merger which would significantly strengthen our institution.

We closed the year by acknowledging a generous $1,000 gift from the West Memphis Rotary Club to the Crittenden County Literacy Council which resides on our campus.

As 2015 approaches, please take time to reflect on the blessings of the year that is almost past, and remember the reason for this and every other season.