Crowder students visit capitol to speak up for community colleges
10 percent cut expected to result in direct impact to students, families
Three Crowder College Cassville students recently visited the state's capitol city, along with students from other Crowder campuses, to represent community colleges and share their concerns about impending and potentially painful budget cuts to higher education.
During the all-day excursion, students met with legislators to share their perspectives and experiences in the community college setting, toured the building and the famous, seven-story dome.
"It gave them a chance to talk about what Crowder has done for them," said Angela Seymour, Crowder director. Along with the three students were selected from Cassville to attend, students from Neosho, Webb City, McDonald County and Nevada also attended.
"Our three biggest degrees are nursing, business and education, so we took a student from each of those areas to have a good mix of students who we knew would represent us. Each of the 12 community college districts in the state, on behalf of the Missouri Community College Association (MCCA) are given an opportunity to visit the capitol and speak to their representatives about their concerns."
Due to state funding withholdings to higher education initiated by previous Gov. Jay Nixon, which are expected to take effect after July 1, the visit was especially significant, said Angela Seymour, Crowder Cassville director.
"We have been trying to help folks understand how important community college work is to the local workforce and how an investment in our work is an investment in the economic growth of our state," she said. "The withholdings don't have as big an effect on universities because they have all these loopholes they can use compared to community colleges. The cuts are going to hurt. It's already hurting. To lump us in with all higher education is not accurate, but I also understand they have very painful decisions to make, and that's why we take students, so our legislators can hear their perspectives.
"State Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, took the students to tour the dome, and provided the students with some history about the state, and State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, spent a great deal of time talking with the students talking about the budgeting process. Rob Dixon, Missouri Community College Association (MCCA) president and executive director, started the day by briefing students on our community college legislative priorities and on the legislative process.
The students were introduced at a session for the House, and worked on a 30-second elevator speech on what community colleges meant to them.
"I think it's part of our jobs as educators to teach citizenship and how your government works," Seymour said. "It was fun watching them have that experience, and nice for the representatives to see the students face-to-face and hear how the cost of college affects their families and lives. Community colleges have historically been able to do a lot more with a lot less, so when you cut from someone who already doesn't have much, it makes it very difficult because there's not much we can cut without a direct impact to the students.
"I understand legislators have a lot to look at — that's why we go to the capital and let them see that we are very frugal with our funding, and that if the cuts take effect, we will be cutting real services and impacting people. Tuition needs to remain as low as possible so we can give as many students the opportunity for more education."
Community colleges are bracing for an approximate 10 percent cut in funding, said Dr. Jennifer Methvin, Crowder College president.
"We've had cuts before, but none this large," Methvin said. "That [will equate to] a significant amount of money for us. We also are in the budget process at the college so we're having to look closely at tuition and the potential of ending some programs and services, and there is no doubt more programs and services may [have to] be cut. Community colleges operate very leanly and if they sustain a cut like that, we will have to cut services. There's no other way to weather that, and that's unfortunate."
Methvin said the community colleges are the heart of the workforce, and the way to grow an economy is to have a well-educated workforce, and to have less resources to do that with seems counterproductive.
"It's very important to our community to be able to train students in skilled jobs," she said. "So many nursing, paramedics, advanced manufacturing and welding careers are available in the community college setting, and in the case of Crowder, so many go work in those areas, and these are vital jobs to our economy."
According to statistics Methvin shared, a high rate of Missourians attend community colleges for lower tuition to obtain their GenEds, expedient training for practical and technical careers, to help those who are less prepared to attend a university, and to provide underemployed parents with the opportunity to return to school who need a degree or certification to better provide for their families — yet the colleges only receive 15 percent of the entire education appropriation.
Graduates also tend to stay in the locale where they received their education, which benefits the local economy.
"It's the community college where a lot of educators begin their careers," Methvin said. "They come to the Cassville campus, for instance, to complete their associates of arts in teaching, and through a partnership with Missouri State, they're able to go to work. Nursing is another example. But education is a shining example of one of our biggest focuses. Our education not only changes the student's life, but that of the family. So the state's investment in us is an investment in the entire state.
"We understand the cuts have to come from somewhere, it's just disappointing that at a time when we need to be training people to fill this skills gap and fueling the economy of this state, that we have fewer resources to do that. We will manage and will do our part and which we believe is to put more people into our workforce so we can help our economy."