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Leaders discuss tuition guarantee program

NATCHEZ — Local leaders are looking to test the waters of a program that would break the tuition barrier for students entering college.

Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority Board Chairman Woody Allen said the tuition guarantee program aims to pay the tuition of high school graduates entering community college who fall through the cracks.

The program would seek to help students who do not get scholarships for academics or athletics. The program also aids students whose parents make too much money for them to receive a Federal Pell Grant.

“It is a good program from the standpoint that you continue to educate the future workforce and the community,” Allen said. “This offers graduates an opportunity to at least go to a two-year school and after that, hopefully they will go on to a four-year.”

Itawamba Community College President David C. Cole said the tuition guarantee program works as a last resort, and the costs have turned out to be lower than anticipated.

“The cost is negligible,” Cole said. “We still offer students the same opportunity for scholarships, and as a result of the poor economy, many qualify for the Pell Grant.”

Copiah-Lincoln Community College President Ronnie Nettles said many students do get Pell Grants or other financial aid at Co-Lin, and said the current number of students that would qualify for the program right now is 144. The cost would be approximately $123,000 per semester, he said.

Cole said the cost is negligible partly because of what it is doing for the community in northeast Mississippi.

“It is gradually raising the bar and expectations, which in time will change our culture,” Cole said. “High school students know if they graduate, one way or another, they will have their tuition covered.”

Itawamba, Lee and the other participating counties are hoping that in time, more students will stay in school longer, and the median income will rise.

Allen said he also looked at the program as a business recruitment tool.

“The employer would know that the area’s workforce would at least have a two-year education,” he said. “The employer also knows they are more likely to attract a workforce, since the employees know their children will at least get that education at no expense to them.”

Little programs such as this are part the reason other communities get business or industrial development over Adams County, Allen said.

The U.S. 45 corridor in Tupelo is starting to line up with modern-manufacturing business, and Toyota recently committed, Cole said.

Adams County District 1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus said the good thing about Co-Lin Natchez is that it has the technical classes as well.

“If nothing else, these students could learn a career out there,” Lazarus said. “There are so many programs out there that could better prepare them for the workforce.”

Lazarus said he knows the supervisors do not have the estimated funds to foot the bill themselves, but he thinks it would be a good thing to try in the near future, with support from local businesses.

“In the future we might need to send something out to test the water,” he said. “A lot of these businesses will benefit too, because the community college will create future employees.

“Maybe they will provide funding for students to get into a program pertaining to their field.”

Lazarus said his hope is that Adams County won’t be one of the last counties to enact this program. Approximately 20 counties have a tuition guarantee program.

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