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Co-Lin — Doing our part

Over 10 years ago, country singer Rodney Atkins released the feel-good anthem, “These Are My People.” One of the verses that resonated deeply with the 90s generation went like this: “Got me some discount knowledge at the junior college… It was real funny ‘til we ran out of money and they threw us out into the world.”

I can certainly relate to that first line. I not only started my post-secondary academic career at the “junior college,” but I have taught at one for almost 20 years. In that time a lot has changed. There may still be some element of truth to throwing you out into the world, but it is not before those college educators, administrators and counselors have done all they can to make sure they have exhausted all avenues for the student to be successful. Being successful has always mattered but the stakes are much higher in today’s society. 

It’s no secret that bachelor’s degrees are no longer what they once were in the job market. Many undergrads fresh out of college stay on the job hunt for long periods of time and do not always find work in their field of study. National studies consistently show an average job search time of three to nine months. One survey conducted by GradStaff reported that on average undergrads applied for 23 jobs before being hired. It’s been estimated that only 27 percent of those with an undergraduate degree actually worked in a field that corresponded with their major. To add insult to injury, many employers are not just looking for the degree but also additional certificates of training.

There has been a subtle but persistent shift in education over the last 10 years. The educational model of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s screamed bachelor’s degree in academics as the way to be successful, unfortunately to the detriment of jobs that required skilled laborers. Fast forward to today where educational institutions not only embrace a career-technical mindset as a very real way to be successful, but back that up with state-of-the-art relevant facilities, programs and sustaining wage employment.

Community colleges have proven to be the best location for these programs. Career-technical programs are nothing new on the community college landscape. However, there is a renewed relationship between career-technical programs and business and industry. The program directors work directly with industry to make sure that skills needed in the labor force are skills that are taught. This relationship is greatly enhanced by workforce development. Workforce is the non-credit side of community colleges. They provide training and certifications at many different times during the year. Career-technical and workforce complement each other by providing a degree path and opportunities to increase employability by adding certifications that employers are seeking.

Adult education is another arm of the community college that seeks to strengthen the labor force in our state. They offer free assessments and classes to those seeking a high school equivalency in the form of GED, HiSET or TASC. The Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (MIBEST) program is designed for someone diligently working toward a HSE to also enroll in a Career-technical program simultaneously. Therefore, increasing their chances of employability. 

Leaders in our state are always on a mission to attract business and industry. A thriving economy is paramount to our survival as a state. The only way we can become a desirable destination for potential companies and businesses is by proving that we have a trained, skilled labor force. There is documentation and accountability for every career-technical, workforce, MIBEST and adult education student that feeds into a national database. This database is used extensively by companies and business to assess the available workforce.

At present, an estimated 60-70 percent of jobs in Mississippi are manufacturing jobs. The supply rate for those jobs is only 35 percent. Data from the State Workforce Investment Board shows that for every manufacturing job created in the state, two additional jobs are created. Additionally, Mississippi pays 27 percent more than the national average for these jobs. The skills necessary for these manufacturing jobs are taught in a great majority of the class offering through career-technical and workforce.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics 2016-2026 projections show that 17 out of 30 of fastest growing occupations over next 10 years need only a technical certificate. Mississippi is among the states with the highest percentage of jobs for non-degree award occupations (non-degree awards would include career technical certificates). A 2018 report from Georgetown University ranked Mississippi second in the nation for “high-earning power jobs that require less than a four-year college degree, with an average salary of $53,000.”

Workers are needed and can easily be trained at area community colleges. Copiah-Lincoln Community College, your district community college, not only offers programs that will train students for these jobs, they are pro-active in helping students seek employment. Kenny Goza, TAACCCT Program Coordinator Co-Lin, estimates that 17-20 different companies have called this summer alone asking for qualified employees.

The economic benefits from training and employment are very visible as poverty levels decrease. However, sustaining wage employment has far reaching benefits that are not always seen in economic data. Data from research in human development shows that sustaining wage employment plays a big role in reducing mental illness such as anxiety and depression. Marriages stabilize. The incidences of drug abuse and physical abuse decline. Crime declines. Children are more likely to have a better vocabulary, better health and greater success in academic and social endeavors. All of these visible and underlying benefits create a better life for the individual but also leads to a healthier, more desirable state.

Mississippi has 15 hidden gems located throughout the state in the form of community colleges. Each college has specified counties that make up their college district. Our state has done an amazing job at paying attention to employment trends and needs. The community colleges have been challenged with the task of preparing individuals for those jobs. Co-Lin, your community college, has risen to that challenge with multiple, innovative ways of meeting those needs.

“Co-Lin is the place to be, and we want it to stay the best place to be. We’re on a path of progress, working hard, and our plans are for continuing progress,” said Co-Lin President Dr. Jane Hulon.

With the five thriving, distinct pathways — academics, career-tech, workforce, MIBEST and adult education — Co-Lin is on the front lines of creating a new direction for our region, state and its people. 

Heather W. Emory is the MIBEST college navigator for Copiah-Lincoln Community College.