In a budget proposal that suggested drastic consolidation of the state's K-12 school districts and public universities, Gov. Haley Barbour was noticeably less adamant about changes to the state's community college system.
"Elimination of campuses, particularly satellite campuses, must be considered, and reducing the number of institutions from fifteen to a lesser number can't be ruled out," Barbour said in his Nov. 16 budget statement.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who serves on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, said Barbour had considered issuing a stronger call for consolidating of community colleges, but decided against it.
"He told us in a meeting the other day that there were probably some community colleges that could reduce campuses and some consolidation that should go on, but that he wasn't ready to take that on," Brown told the Jackson Free Press.
"I don't know why he would not do that, other than he just didn't have time for it, or didn't know enough about it or thought it was too complicated."
Instead, Barbour suggested a number of administrative changes that fall short of outright merger or closure.
"There is no reason for each of the 15 community and junior colleges to have its own 'back room' operation, such as payroll, insurance and purchasing," Barbour said in his budget proposal. "A single such administrative operation should be set up, preferably combined with the same functions for all the IHL universities."
Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, worked for Coahoma Community College from 1976 to 2000, most recently as its Director of Public Relations. He believes the state needs to balance the efficiency of centralized administration with the responsiveness of local control.
A central state office could manage payroll and some purchasing much more efficiently than the separate offices that each community and junior college currently has, Mayo conceded.
"The state government already does that with 25,000 employees or more," Mayo said.
Purchases from the state bid list and bulk purchases like office supplies are logical choices for consolidation.
In other cases, however, clearing purchases with a state office would add needless red tape, Mayo said. Classes like automotive mechanics may require frequent small purchases.
"Having to do them in a centralized purchasing office out of Jackson would be cumbersome," Mayo said.
Barbour also suggested that the State Board of Colleges and Junior Colleges become a governing board, following the example of the state's universities and K-12 education. With individual boards of trustees for each school, the state's system of community and junior colleges is less centralized than its public universities, but some see that as an asset.
Community colleges benefit from their relative independence from a state governing body by adapting their course offerings to immediate, short-term needs, Mayo argued.
Under the current governance model, if a hospital requires its employees to get electronic records training, the local community college can negotiate with the hospital to offer that training.
"The decision to offer these short-term courses stops at the administration of the community college, which it should because they're responding to a local need," Mayo said. "Universities respond to state needs."
Mayo believes that a change in governance that would give more power to the state board could jeopardize the flexibility that community colleges currently enjoy.
"The mission of the community college is not statewide," he said. "Are you going to have to run to the state board for permission to do something?"