Budget has benefits for Co-Lin

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; A priority placed on higher education by the Mississippi Legislature earlier this year was a boon for community colleges such as the Natchez campus of Copiah-Lincoln.

&uot;For the first time in my 16 years in education, funding was in place early enough to allow us to go forward and plan our budget,&uot; said Dr. Ronnie Nettles, dean at the sprawling modern campus on hilly terrain in south Natchez.

With a total budget of approximately $24 million for the Wesson and Natchez campuses of Co-Lin, the two-year college still feels a pinch, however. Total state funding for community colleges is down about 23 percent from its highest level three years ago.

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&uot;Knowing what we could budget has helped us this year,&uot; Nettles said. &uot;That is not to say we’re not in need of more funding. But we are starting back this year even with the previous year.&uot;

The Natchez campus accounts for about $4 million of the entire Co-Lin budget. &uot;That figure is deceiving, though,&uot; Nettles said. &uot;A lot of our support at Natchez is budgeted over there. So much of what we get on this campus comes through Wesson.&uot;

For example, all of the community services division falls under the budget at the main campus in Wesson. That includes such programs as workforce training, adult education and the senior aids program that trains older students to get back into the work force.

Most of the needs Nettles sees at Co-Lin Natchez are results of a growing student population, averaging about 800 students in the past couple of years. &uot;We’ve had a lot of growth, and the funding has not kept pace with it,&uot; he said. &uot;We deal with that by having more adjunct professors, a few more students in each class, maybe buying a few less books and spending less money on new technology.&uot;

Any cut in spending on programs is a deep one for the dean, who wants instead to increase faculty and programs as soon as budget constraints ease. &uot;We need another math instructor. And I’d like to add some fine arts instruction, maybe as simple as music appreciation and art appreciation,&uot; Nettles said. &uot;And we don’t have anyone to coordinate activities for students. That’s a position I’d like to see added.&uot;

For many years described as a non-traditional student body, the enrollees at Co-Lin still include many older students who have come to college after putting it off for a few years or have returned after deciding on a new direction for a career. However, the average age now has dropped to 25 from 26 or 27 a few years ago.

&uot;More students are making a real choice to come here,&uot; Nettles said. Where once convenience was a main reason, now Co-Lin Natchez is attracting students who believe they will get a good foundation at a good price.

A plus for Co-Lin Natchez has been the stability of its faculty, Nettles said. &uot;We have some faculty members who have been here over 20 years. From a quality standpoint, that is important to our instruction as well as to our programs.&uot;

Co-Lin is adding classes for 2002-2003 in heating and air-conditioning. &uot;We are excited about adding a new program at Co-Lin at a time that programs are not being added at other community colleges,&uot; he said. &uot;And we need to get students enrolled in the programs now.&uot;

Registration for the fall semester is open, Nettles said. &uot;And the sooner a student registers, the better &045; especially those who need financial aid. There are only about six weeks left before classes begin.&uot;

Classes will begin Aug. 18. Prior to that, two days are set aside for registration on July 31 and Aug. 12. &uot;But now is a good time to come, too&uot; Nettles said.