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Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
As a Champion for Change and as a finalist for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC), recognizes that educating citizens in our society is paramount to the mission of every community college. Located in a region referred to as the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the college offers programs and services designed to enhance the educational level of the residents in the diverse four-counties constituting the college district. The educational and economic role in response to the community for 100 years demonstrates a strong commitment of MGCCC faculty, staff and administration to learning outcomes, completion initiative, and labor-market outcomes, all contributing to the successes experienced by the college. Critical to every institution’s effectiveness is the strong planning and assessment process which ensures that decisions are based on feedback from every component of the institution. From rural to metropolitan service areas, colleges across the country must adapt to changing economic, educational and technological requirements based on outcomes-assessment data.
The 15 public, two-year institutions in the state of Mississippi with designated service areas by county has increased enrollment to more than 80,000 students. Like other colleges in the nation, MGCCC has witnessed an increasing number of students pursuing higher education with 70 percent of the students planning to transfer to a four-year institution. Strong partnerships with the local business/industry community and military bases have ensured the preparation of more skilled workers for the competitive 21st Century. Technical programs developed in cooperation with specific industries have produced a significant number of graduates with the skills necessary to address labor-market needs in the health care, process technology and maritime fields. The long-standing relationship of working with military installations in providing educational opportunities and services to veterans has resulted in the college being named a Military Friendly School. Further, the college’s participation in a Veteran’s History project several years ago along with local entities resulted in oral histories of World War II veterans recorded for the U.S. Library of Congress.
While facing the many challenges during the past decade, including the worst national disaster to strike the United States (Hurricane Katrina), unprecedented state budget cuts and required student tuition increases, the institution embarked on strategic planning with a major building program and achieved national recognition for outstanding programs and activities. The resilience of the employees and the commitment to continue to make a positive difference in the lives of students resulted in a perfect reaccreditation report, significant national recognition of student scholars, increased completion rates, and stronger, innovative business/industry partnerships.
Dr. Mary S. Graham, the 12th President of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, is the first woman to lead the 100-year old institution that was recently selected as one of ten finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.