Mississippi's Coahoma Community College Finally Gets Legal Funding District

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Mississippi's Coahoma Community College Finally Gets Legal Funding. District

by B. Denise Hawkins

For nearly 50 years, Mississippi's only historically Black community college has managed to exist despite one of the most glaring remnants of its racially segregated past -- the absence of a legal funding district.

But after years of lobbying, Mississippi's legislature passed a bill late last month legally designating Coahoma County one of the college's funding districts. The college will also share Bolivar County with Mississippi Delta Community College and share Quitman, Tunica and Tallahatchie Counties with Northwest Mississippi Community College.

"We are extremely excited about the new legislation," says Coahoma Community College (CCC) President Dr. Vivian M. Presley, who quickly adds that the small campus located in the economically and academically depressed Mississippi Delta region, "still won't be on parity with other public community colleges."

For example, the majority of Coahoma's funding comes from the federal government through grants, which often exceed contributions from the state. When the college is referred to in Mississippi's state legislative code, it is not by name, but by description, says Presley.

The code reads: "...existing publicly operated junior college, lying in and operated by a county bordering on the Mississippi River."

After years of wrangling, "What we came up with was a compromise, but Northwest [Mississippi Community College] wanted no part of the compromise although they knew it was the fair thing to do," Presley says.

Tax funds from Quitman, Tunica and Tallahatchie to CCC will be prorated until the end of the fiscal year. Beginning July 1, 1996, the college will equally split funds with Northwest Mississippi, says Rep. Willie Simmons (D-13th District), one of the chief authors of the legislation.

"This is an example of Mississippi state legislature responding to a college need that needed to be corrected," says Dr. Olan Ray, executive director of Mississippi's State Board for Community and Junior Colleges.

Ray said passage of the bill was successful now because of the "evolution of new leadership and thinking in the state. People are finding that it is no longer convenient to ignore things that have been ignored...doing the right thing had more to do with the legislation than anything else."

But as often as some of Mississippi's college officials and politicians "tried to close their eyes to the racial disparity that clearly existed at Coahoma for years," CCC officials and members of the legislative Black Caucus fought to unravel the past, says Presley. …