ST. LOUIS — With new leadership, the Missouri Community College Association is gearing up for another legislative session with high hopes of having its voice heard on some key higher education issues.
Ray Cummiskey, the recently-inducted Chair of the Association, said building upon what the organization has tried to do the last few years is a big goal in terms of helping legislators understand the role of community colleges in Missouri.
“We also need to look at and continue fighting for a fair share of state funding,” he said, referring to the work-in-progress effort for a higher education funding formula that’s based on performance.
The legislature was unable to secure the votes for this past session’s draft of a formula — Senate Bill 437 — because of several disagreements in the Senate about certain four-year schools getting more money than others, and a portion of the bill that four-year school proponents say gave community colleges an unequal share of the proverbial pie.
“We don’t want to take away from our other educational partners, but it’s time to realize that we’re educating nearly half of the freshmen and sophomore students in the state and yet we’re getting 15 percent of the overall funding,” he said. “We need to address that and get our schools properly funded so we can keep doing our work.”
Cummiskey holds an office at a school, like most people on the governing board, as the President of Jefferson College. While he said time will of course be a challenge, Cummiskey said he thinks it is worth is. In addition to legislative work, he said he plans to spend a significant amount of time looking at grant opportunities that could benefit schools and the Association.
While the Association’s Executive Director, Zora Mulligan, will likely be Cummiskey’s right-hand partner in the legislature, as she has been for chairmen in the past, another key person for him is his Chair-Elect, Devin Stephenson.
Part of being Chair-Elect means preparing to assume the Chair roles the following year, which Stephenson said he is working toward.
Stephenson, the President of Three Rivers Community College, shares many of the same concerns and priorities as Cummiskey, though for Stephenson protecting financial aid programs is one of his top-tier efforts.
“My district is the poorest in the region, the 20th poorest congressional district in the United States,” he emphasized. “The A+ Program provides a ladder out of poverty for so many of these students, so we want to protect that for sure.”
In terms of the funding formula, Stephenson said he thinks legislators’ eyes are slowly opening to the role of community colleges in Missouri.
“I’m a classically-trained pianist,” he said. “You’re not going to save the economy training ballerinas or pianists. We need welders, program controllers, good engineers, physical therapist assistants, occupational therapy assistants — community colleges are key to the recruiting industry.”
Legislators already are saying that the funding formula will continue to be a big discussion topic in the coming session to meet the governor’s 2015 goal for a performance-based formula.
Ashley Jost is no longer with The Missouri Times. She worked as the executive editor for several months, and a reporter before that.