The Legislature has allocated $11 million for salary increases for faculty in the Mississippi community college system, but some say that’s not enough to ensure their salaries remain competitive with K-12 after the historic salary increase for teachers. teachers.
Mississippi’s 15 community colleges have long struggled to retain the best and brightest faculty, in part due to a lack of state funding. A 2007 law stipulates that community colleges receive mid-level funding, half the amount per student the legislature allocates to K-12 and regional universities, but this has never happened.
Now, some say the historic pay increase for K-12 teachers, coupled with the relatively small amount lawmakers have given to community college instructors, means many professors could be making more money. they were transitioning to K-12 education.
“I want to make it very clear, I’m happy for K-12 instructors,” said Thomas Huebner, president of Meridian Community College. “But it will have an absolute impact on our ability to attract and retain instructors at the community college level.”
The likelihood of a community college instructor earning more in K-12 will vary, and there is a lack of data to show how this might play out overall. The Mississippi Department of Education has not calculated how the salary increase will affect average teacher salaries. It can also be difficult to make a direct comparison between K-12 and community college instructors, as they work for varying contract lengths and teach different subjects.
For example, if Brandi Pickett, a wellness instructor at Meridian Community College, were to return to K-12, the historic teacher salary increase means she could earn about $14,000 more because of her years of experience and her status as a teacher certified by the National Board.
Pickett remains in her current position, with a base salary of $49,500 a year, because she went to community college and enjoys teaching students who remind her of herself. But she knows that many community college professors, especially those who teach general education courses like history or science, might have an incentive to leave for K-12.
“Why isn’t (my salary) comparable to K-12?” Picket said. “Why don’t people try…to give an incentive to keep these great teachers and not move them? Where I come from, people can go to Alabama, across the border, and be able to teach.
In March, the Legislature passed a $246 million pay increase for K-12 teachers, the largest in state history. The average teacher in Mississippi earned $46,862 in the 2020-21 school year, but that will increase with the salary increase. The average full-time community college instructor earned $50,465 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
The presidents of Mississippi’s 15 community colleges first asked the Legislature to appropriate $11 million in salaries, enough for a general 3% raise for the system’s roughly 6,000 employees. But they increased that request to $25 million in January because of the rate of inflation and the historic amount K-12 teachers were likely to get, said Kell Smith, acting executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board.
The legislator stuck to the first request.
Community colleges in Mississippi are already struggling to retain faculty, especially those in vocational technical education who can earn far more working in the trade than teaching it. Huebner said MCC recently lost an instructor in the power lineman program because the college couldn’t match the salary offered by out-of-state industry. He described the process of trying to find a replacement as “incredible”.
“There have been situations where we have spent nine months trying to find a welding instructor because our pay scale has so far been lower than what the industry was trying to pay these people,” he said. declared.
Without sufficient public funding, community colleges are crippled in their ability to raise faculty salaries on their own. Some colleges pushed for higher property taxes to fill the budget gap or raised tuition, Huebner said. But the latter option makes it harder for community colleges to fulfill their mission: “To provide a working-class option, or entry, into the higher education system,” said Chris Stevenson, professor of history at Itawamba Community College. .
Stevenson says he and his wife like to joke that they “took a vow of poverty” when they decided to become teachers.
“It’s a labor of love more than wage labor,” he said.
In 2007, the Legislature attempted to address these budget issues by passing the Mid-Level Funding Act, which was intended to “provide adequate funding for community and junior colleges in Mississippi.” This would be accomplished by funding community colleges at a higher level than K-12 schools but lower than regional colleges. After lawmakers passed the bill, the plan was to phase in mid-tier funding over a three-year period.
Then the Great Recession hit. The Legislature has never funded community colleges at an average level, Smith said. And community colleges have stopped asking for it. The MCCB now aligns its budget priorities with increases in the funding formula, workforce programs and salary increases.
“Honestly, we’ve never had much success with” mid-level funding, Smith said. “It seemed like it had become such a big demand.”
According to the MCCB, the Legislative Assembly should have allocated an additional $159 million to the community college system to meet mid-tier funding this term. This includes the additional $64 million needed to bring community college instructor salaries to a midpoint between K-12 teachers and university professors.
“It makes us feel less important,” said Hinds Community College librarian Jennifer Smith. “We are also teachers, and we feel like we are just not valued by the state. We train people to enter the workforce, and so what we do is develop our state. But our state does not reward us for helping the state.
After Smith finishes cataloging the books, she goes to her second job making truffles at a bakery. She said many of her co-workers take on extra jobs, like teaching extra classes at nearby universities, taking on custodial duties, tutoring students, or running Instacart or Doordash deliveries.
Without those jobs, Smith said, “we can’t really afford to live.”
Last year, the Legislative Assembly allocated enough funds for a general increase of 1% for community college employees. In Pickett’s nine years teaching at MCC, she said it was the first time she’d seen lawmakers give community college employees a blanket raise.
Pickett, who is the president of the Mississippi Association of Community College Faculty, an advocacy group, said she appreciates the money lawmakers have donated for the raises. She hopes that one day lawmakers will show that they are “ready to invest.”
“We have one of the best (community college) systems in the country,” she said. “What would happen if we weren’t there anymore, in the workforce? To that large gap of students who need community colleges? »