A critical time for community colleges

Published 7:00 am Friday, February 27, 2015

This is a watershed moment for Mississippi’s 15 Community Colleges. These colleges serve upwards of 103,000 students—30 percent of whom fuel Mississippi’s economic base by moving straight into the workforce in fields ranging from nursing and welding to car-making, while preparing the remaining 70 percent of these students for transfer into Mississippi’s University System.

Mississippi’s Community College board members are currently at an impasse in determining who will lead the charge in Mississippi’s Community College System, following the retirement of Mississippi Community College Board (MCCB) Executive Director Dr. Eric Clark, who will be stepping down later this year.

Earlier this month, the Board held a meeting to determine whether or not to continue the process of interviewing qualified candidates, or to succumb to pressure from the Governor to “broaden the search” by eliminating both the current degree and experience requirements, in such a way that would make a taxi cab driver eligible to apply.

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This course of action is dangerous.  Without a qualified leader, Mississippi would be left without a seat at the table among community college leaders, policy makers and national organizations that set the agenda for education in this country.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) accrediting standards for colleges and universities requires the 15 Mississippi community college presidents to provide evidence that they have the credentials to lead their institutions.  However, these changes could result in the leader having fewer credentials than the college presidents themselves.  

As someone who has spent more than two decades of my life working to help students and improve colleges, I am highly insulted. 

The leader of our colleges must be knowledgeable about the current and future challenges facing community college education in this country—including the national mandates to improve degree completion, provide a seamless transfer experience, and to deliver college credit to high school students through dual enrollment/dual credit programs, just to name a few. These tasks are not simple and can neither be well-understood nor can they be well-executed by a person who lacks experience.

Mississippi’s community college system is the oldest and one of the most respected in the nation because we have maintained high standards. Doing so has put us at the top, and we have the 7th highest graduation rates in the nation.  We are currently a model for other community college systems to emulate.  Not having a qualified leader in place will affect the credibility of the Mississippi community college system, the continued success of the individual colleges, and will eventually cripple the state’s economy.

Lynn Tincher-Ladner, Ph.D.

23 years of experience working in and with community colleges 

Higher education consultant, former community college math instructor, college administrator, SACSCOC accreditation reviewer 

Resident of Long Beach, Mississippi.