Elliott seeks open door education policy
By By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
May 21, 2001
The role of a community college, as Dr. Scott Elliott, president of Meridian Community College sees it, is to provide an open door policy to education for all who may seek it, from the cradle to the grave.
At MCC this is being done by offering everything from the Kid's College scheduled for the summer, to seniors programs for mature scholars.
And, Elliott said community colleges are about providing job skills.
At this point in time, however, this is being done while competing for the largest portion of an ever-shrinking pie state funding.
To date, state funding at Meridian Community College has been cut $1,059,226 since Elliott came on board in 1998.
But, Elliott said, the state is telling the community college to anticipate another 5 percent cut, maybe by mid-year.
With tuition at $1,200 per year, MCC still falls below the national average in cost of about $1,300.
There are other economic factors to consider. Not all students qualify for federal aid or assistance. Many students have to consider the cost of child care when planning to go to school and the price of gasoline is major issue for community college students.
Elliott said if enrollment stays the same, the school should recover some $400,000 in the coming year.
Enrollment has been at an all-time high for MCC with 3,600 students registered in the fall. That figure went down to 3,200 by the end of the first six weeks, but Elliott said it was still the healthiest enrollment the college has had.
He described enrollment as being static when he came to the school in a marginal decline.
MCC had a retention problem in Elliott's estimation with more than 60 percent of the students enrolled having one or more developmental skill deficiencies.
The answer to this problem has been for the school to focus on developmental education classes and to augment the lecture environment with tutorial studies. The college has done this with its Success Center, providing one-on-one tutorial assistance.
As a gauge for this program's success, Elliott used the math department as an example.
Before the focus on developmental skills, Elliott said about two of every three intermediate algebra students were performing at less than a C average. Now, approximately two-thirds are passing.
Some of the college's teachers may be looking elsewhere for work with higher pay.
For the second year in a row, MCC has been unable to deliver a raise to its employees and 29 teachers have retired in the past three years. Elliott believes the rate of retirement is in part due to the state not being able to deliver increases in salary since retirement is based on an employee's highest three years of pay.
Elliott said some teachers are retiring early in Mississippi and going on to work in another state to earn retirement benefits there.
What about USM?
Elliott maintains the move is not a matter of opportunity and access for students with there being two community colleges on the Gulf Coast now.
He said a four-year institution would only duplicate class offerings from the community college. Elliott pointed out that the situation would not be comparable to MCC's relationship with the MSU-Meridian campus because MCC offers freshman/sophomore classes and MSU-Meridian offers junior/senior curriculum.
USM wants to be heard by the State Supreme Court on the issue.
In the area of funding, it doesn't look good for next year, Elliott said. But he is optimistic that next year will be the end of Mississippi's economic down cycle.
Elliott's hope is that Meridian's industrial park will develop and attract new industry to the area with maybe a spin-off from the Nissan plant coming to the state.
He sees MCC's cooperative venture with Mississippi State in the Grand Opera House project becoming a magnet to the area.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.