Elliott: MCC continues to build for the future
The Star: When do classes start for the fall semester at MCC and what does the enrollment look like this year?
Elliott: Classes begin Monday, Aug. 18. I am keeping my fingers crossed for a fourth consecutive year to establish an all-time enrollment record at MCC. Right now, comparing the corresponding time last year with this year in terms of enrollment, MCC is doing very well. We just need to sustain our momentum all the way through late registration.
The Star: What budget woes will MCC be dealing with this year?
Elliott: It's a wait-and-see proposition with the Legislature right now. The grapevine coming out of Jackson some weeks ago was that (fiscal year) 2004 would be the toughest year yet due to a projection of a dramatic shortfall in revenue. However, more recently, Gov. Musgrove has inferred that things are beginning to look up with the economy, and that maybe things won't be as bad as initially projected. I hope he's right.
The greatest fear among all of the state's community colleges is that the revenue shortfall will be such that the community colleges' state funds will be cut by 5 percent at mid-year. In MCC's case, we've been cut about $1.7 million over the last three fiscal years, so we certainly hope a mid-year cut won't occur in (fiscal year) 2004.
The Star: You've commented many times about "community" being an important part of community colleges. What do you think community colleges in general should be doing that they are not doing within their respective communities?
Elliott: Indeed, community is the operative word in MCC's title. I believe every community college should be in a continuous mode of trying to offer contemporary educational programs that respond to the specific needs of the communities they serve. The problem with having your funds cut at the state level is not so much about decreasing existing services. Rather, it's about not being able to expand needed services.
At MCC, as an example, we would be starting more new health occupations programs if we had the resources to do so. I would cite sonography as an example. But such programs are extremely high cost in terms of instruction, equipment and facilities, and it's difficult, if not impossible, to implement those kinds of programs absent state support. Meridian is a regional hub for acute heath care services for approximately 300,000 people. We need more educational programs to support that industry.
The Star: What are the advantages of going to a community college before advancing one's education?
Elliott: One, of course, is cost. Students can attend a community college like MCC for about half the cost of a university, and that's just considering tuition. When you think about the savings of living and eating at home, versus going off to a university, it's even more significant.
More important than money, in my mind, is the nurturing environment of a community college. MCC's average class size is about 25. That enables each instructor to provide students with more one-on-one time, and that can mean the difference between success and failure for lots of people.
Also, a community college teacher's focus is strictly on the student learning the competencies of the course. Our teachers are not researchers, and they are not graduate assistants trying to learn their profession, so to speak. Now, that's going to sound like I'm knocking universities, and I don't mean for it to come off that way at all. It's just that I honestly feel that for the first two years of a college student's experience, that focus on teaching is an advantage for community colleges in terms of better serving students.
The Star: What's new at MCC this school year?
Elliott: We are starting a new cosmetology program this fall. It will be a state-of-the-art storefront operation in College Park Shopping Center, and it will provide students with fast-track career opportunities. Hopefully, during this school year, we will be starting a new commercial truck driving school. That will be another example of a fast-track curriculum.
We will also be starting a new Web development technology program, which involves developing, designing and maintaining Web sites. It's all about jobs, jobs, jobs. In terms of capital improvements, we will be opening a new fine arts wing this fall featuring really nice choral and band instructional areas and a green room to enhance our theatrical presentation. We will also be enclosing the swimming pool this year to convert the facility from an open-air canvass top building into a true natatorium that can be enjoyed year-round by students and the public.