MGCCC cutting jobs, raising tuition to make ends meet

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

PERKINSTON, MS (WLOX) - Summer classes started Tuesday at the Jeff Davis campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Starting this fall, students will have to pay more for their education.

"It's going to have a big effect on not just me, but a lot of students here, with everything being so tight and everything's going up," said Latisha Cole, who wants to be a registered nurse.

Tuition for full-time students will go up from $790 to $900 a semester. Part-time students will pay an extra $10 per credit hour.

"We have to balance our budgets," said MGCCC President Dr. Willis Lott.

Dr. Lott said enrollment still has not recovered since Katrina, especially at J.D.

"Now, J.D. and J.C. have basically the same enrollment: 3,500 to 3,700 students.  At one time, J.D. had over 5,000 students," Lott said.

MGCCC has already used a $10.6 million appropriation from the Mississippi legislature to refund tuition to students who withdrew after the storm and paid for their books.  Also, $18 million in federal disaster loans will run out at the end of June.

"The college has been shielded from the direct impact from Katrina for the last four years, really," Lott said.  "The reality of Katrina and the impact to the college is catching up to us.  So we're having to make it on our own, so to speak."

Overall, the community college had to slash more than $5 million from this year and next year's budget. To save money, two programs will be consolidated and one Marine Mechanics class at the Jackson County campus will close.  Dr. Lott said the most painful decision was cutting 28 positions, some through retirements or resignations.

"We had 19 real people we had to look in the eye and say, 'I'm sorry. As good a job as you're doing, we can't hire you back next year because we don't have the money.' And some of those people have been here over 30 years," Lott said.

Dr. Lott hopes that an expected 6.6 percent jump in enrollment, plus increases in tuition and financial contributions from four counties will help the community college stay financially afloat.  However, if those projected increases don't pan out, more cuts may be coming this year.

"First thing we're going to look at is the travel, supplies, and equipment, before we look at personnel," said Lott.

When asked if he's crossing his fingers, hoping for a quick economic recovery, he replied, "I'm praying about this. I'm doing more than crossing my fingers."

Dr. Lott said the community college expects to receive some money from the federal stimulus package to help pay operational costs for this year, as well as the next two years.

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