Tom King

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Legislators meet with PRCC students, faculty

Folks at Pearl River Community College heard a little good news Monday – they’ll probably get through the school year without losing any more funding.

Eighteen consecutive months of falling tax revenue meant most state agencies, including community college, were asked to cut their budgets more than once in fiscal 2010.

“The good news is five out of the last six months, we’ve met tax projections,” said Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg. “I don’t think there will be mid-year budget cuts, but the growth is microscopic.”

Members of the Forrest County Center PRCC Faculty Association and students met with four area legislators, Sen. Tom King, R-Petal; Rep. Larry Byrd, R-Petal; Rep. Harvey Fillingane, R-Sumrall; and Barker.

“I enjoyed it,” said radiography student Logan Holden of Poplarville. “I thought it kind of gave us a bird’s eye view of the state and what’s going on.”

While the state’s economy grows at a snail’s pace, enrollment at the state’s 15 community colleges is booming, said PRCC President Dr. William Lewis.

Sen. Tom King, R_Petal, left, and Rep. Toby Barker, R_Hattiesburg, talk with Pearl River Community College radiology student Logan Holden of Poplarville Monday while Rep. Harvey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, greets another student during an open house at the Forrest County Center. PRCC Public Relations photo

Statewide, 88,000 students are enrolled in a community college this semester, 11,000 more than are attending a four-year institution, he said. Of the state’s freshmen, 70 percent are attending community college and 97 percent of community college students live in Mississippi, he said.

“We have a lot of needs,” Lewis said. “We continue to grow. We continue to need help. These are the folks we can count on.”

The economy downturn appears to have bottomed out but recovery won’t be quick, Fillingane said.

“As far as real solid growth goes, we’ll  have to have new jobs,” he said.

King agreed recovery will be slow.

“They’re telling us 2014 or 2015 to get to where we were five years ago,” King said.

Byrd predicted South Mississippi will benefit from reapportionment this year as well as economic factors such as expansion of the Port of Gulfport and the opening of the Stion solar panel plant in Hattiesburg.

“Because of the shift in population, we’ll see more lobbying efforts for South Mississippi,” he said.