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Pearl River Community College is improving enrollment, facilities

Dr. Adam Breerwood, President of Pearl River Community College, gave a presentation concerning accomplishments and plans at the college during Tuesday’s Poplarville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Lunch and Learn.

During Breerwood’s 20 months as the head of the college, the mission has been to increase student enrollment, provide more scholarship opportunities and hold the athletics team members to a higher standard.

He said part of that approach has been to provide a holistic experience, where the focus is to provide students with social, educational and spiritual lessons.

At the same time, PRCC has been adapting with the changes in technology and society to give students access to more online courses, and providing 8-week courses and weekend classes.

“We give them an opportunity they never thought possible,” Breerwood said.

The biggest hurdle to achieve these goals involved working around the statewide budget cuts. While the cuts did cause 19 staff positions to be cut, the focus was on student retention and attracting more students by providing more scholarship opportunities.

Staff also received a 4 percent pay raise, and minimum wage for PRCC jobs was increased from $7.25 to $10 an hour.

Breerwood said that the college expanded career and technology programs, kept tuition affordable and upgraded existing facilities in an effort to attract students.

That work has paid off. He said that enrollment this past spring is up 7.2 percent, and up 14 percent over the past three years, a feat when other colleges in the area such as Jones Community College and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College have seen enrollment declines.

Online class enrollment is also up. Breerwood said that the college saw a 31 percent increase over the year.

To increase enrollment for students interested in sports, the college added a rodeo program, bass fishing team, women’s cross country and volleyball.

And when it comes to sports, Breerwood said he raised the bar for athletes concerning their grades and conduct. Instead of engaging in recruitment wars for athletes who may bring baggage, the coaching staff has been changed and expectations raised for those students. Breerwood said he mandates that all athletes participate in the college’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which breaks down the social barriers between those students and changed the culture on campus. While wins for the various teams were rare the first few years after the changes, last year state championship titles were earned by the men’s baseball, men’s basketball and men’s soccer teams. Those changes also led to an increase in the GPA average of each team, and resulted in 20 football players graduating and signing on to a four-year college last year, compared to only one football player graduating from PRCC three years ago.

As the college moves into the future, the plan is to be part of the area’s economic engine by expanding adult education so people who may have been knocked off track in life can find a fresh start. That can be done by recruiting those who finish the college’s GED program to continue their education at PRCC and leave with the ability to potentially secure a job making $35,000 annually.

As for the tuition, Breerwood said that PRCC is the only college in the area not to implement an increase this year. And, it’s still more affordable to take the first two years of classes for a four-year-degree at PRCC. On average, a student can save $10,479 by taking those first two years of courses at PRCC when compared to attending a university, he said.

Currently 800 students live on campus, and there’s a waiting list of more than 500 for dorm rooms. To help address this situation, the college is in the process of building two more dorms capable of housing 260 more students. The dorms are anticipated to be complete by spring of 2021.

There are also plans to build a math and science building annex, along with some upgrades to the existing facility. The annex will face U.S. 11 and will include four state of the art labs.

At the Forrest County campus, $1.5 million has been provided by that county’s Board of Supervisors to perform upgrades to the classrooms, parking lot and campus police facilities.

In Hancock County, more than $6 million in funding has been secured from various sources to build a new campus near the Hancock County High School and Stennis International Airport.

Of the school’s $39 million annual budget, $21 million is spent on payroll, of which $10.5 million goes to Pearl River County campus staff, providing a boost to the local economy.