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Easier way to college just got harder

I’m a product of the Mississippi community college system. Like most who attend two years at a junior college, I went to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College because of the cost difference compared to a four-year university. I later transferred to Delta State University for the final two years of my education. So it was disheartening when news came about another increase in tuition to attend community college in Mississippi.

The purpose of the community college system is to provide an affordable education, but quickly that has become more difficult. Due to cuts in the state budget, community college’s in Mississippi are being forced to raise tuition by 13 percent on average.

Community college presidents are being forced to make some very difficult decisions. Besides raising tuition, they are also looking at layoffs and eliminating some programs. Several schools will no longer offer certain athletic activities. Northwest Community College, for example, will no longer offer men’s golf or men’s and women’s tennis. Students who want to attend two semesters at Northwest will have to play $3,000, which is twice as much as what I paid in the 1980s.  According to the state community college board, the average tuition is just over $3,000, which is up from $2,740 from a year ago.

Statewide, tuition continues to rise faster than inflation and income. Although community college tuition cost 3.1 percent of median family income in Mississippi in 2000, it cost 6.4 percent in 2016.

Many students are able to afford community college through Pell Grants. The nearly $6,000 a student can receive through the federal financial aid is more than enough to cover the cost of tuition, but not everyone can afford a student loan.

Community college is supposed to be a way out of poverty and there is no doubt Mississippi is blessed with one of the finest community college systems in the nation. And that is why many elected officials and businesses have been attempting to develop partnerships with workforce training programs for Mississippians to achieve higher paying jobs through the community college system. But the question now is will many of those who are near the bottom of the economic ladder be able to afford the community college system and achieve that higher paying job?

In order for Mississippi to take advantage of major industries like the auto industry relocating in the Magnolia State, we need a workforce capable of using modern equipment and trained through the community college system.

Education in Mississippi is already a struggle and raising tuition for those who already can’t afford the cost is just an added burden.

Rob Sigler is managing editor of The Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at rob.sigler@oxfordeagle.com