Thursday, March 18, 2010
Board discusses workforce, tuition guarantee
By SUE WATSON
Marshall and Benton counties and the municipalities were introduced last week to a state plan to help fund a Workforce Investment Center in the area.
Les Range, executive director of Mississippi Department of Employment Security, presented a proposal to area leaders where the state would invest about $100,000 to partially fund a WIN Center, according to supervisor George Zinn III, a proponent of the center.
The audience was polled after the meeting and everyone liked the proposal put on the table, Zinn said. The groups will meet again on March 18 at 3:30 p.m. at the Beckley Center on Rust College Campus to discuss how groups will participate.
In a further matter on partnerships, the board met with Sharon Gardner with Northeast Mississippi Planning and Develpment District, and with representatives of local banks to test interest in a college tuition guarantee program for graduating seniors.
Gardner said the tuition guarantee program would be a gap plan to pay for tuition at a two-year college for high school seniors who qualify. She said the program is designed to raise an endowment through partnerships for the first five years and then the program would be self-supporting thereafter.
Basically, the plan would provide tuition to qualified applicants who have exhausted all other sources of funding for tuition, she said. Students could study for academic degrees or vocational ones.
Guidelines are rigorous and high school seniors who qualify for the gap funds must go four consecutive semesters to a community college and keep grades up. They are not allowed to break up the semesters and must be enrolled full-time.
Statistics provided from other counties that have participated in the program show Lee County had 219 applicants and awarded 73, while Pontotoc County had 25 to apply and 19 awarded.
Gardner said the program has been put in place by counties to encourage students who are on the borderline financially to not give up going for a college degree. She said the local banks in many counties have partnered with the local governments to get their programs paid for.
Should a partnership be approved, an advisory committee will be formed to help make decisions on how much money to raise each year and when to begin offering awards, Gardner said.
Data from Meridian Community College, the first to institute the plan, shows the average award is $700, while Itawamba Community College’s participation has averaged $467 per award, Gardner said.
Supervisors are concerned about how to come up with matching funds in these financial times, yet believe that the tuition plan would go a long way in helping the county develop its workforce.
Meridian Community College has had the tuition guarantee program in place about 15 years, Gardner said. Since then the CREATE Foundation in Tupelo has used Meridian’s program as a model and has about 16 counties in the program’s district. Marshall and Benton counties are the only two of the 16 who have not developed an endowment plan, she said.
“I know these are hard economic times and how hard it is for you to see how to squeeze another dollar out,” Gardner said. “But this will break the cycle in some families who have never valued education before. We would love for you to join in partnership with us in some capacity.”
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