The annual 10th day headcount results are in and Pearl River Community College is now the fourth largest community college in Mississippi. This holds true for both the number of students and the number of credit hours.
Founded in 1909 as the state’s first county agricultural high school, Pearl River became the first public two-year community college in the state of Mississippi in 1924. The current ranking marks the first time Pearl River has been No. 4 in the school’s modern era.
“We are humbled by the increased number of students who choose to enroll at Pearl River Community College,” said Pearl River President Dr. Adam Breerwood. “We have worked diligently to remain affordable and accessible for all those who are seeking higher educational opportunities. Our Board of Trustees has provided overwhelming support for facility upgrades, the addition of several new programs, and flexible course scheduling. Their vision has allowed us to become better equipped to serve a larger student population.
“Over the past several years we have increased institutional and Foundation scholarship opportunities and developed new marketing strategies."
What ultimately makes Pearl River so special and allows it to stand above its peers, is its faculty and staff. More than 500 strong in total, PRCC credits its faculty for being the solid foundation that has allowed the college to grow in unparalleled ways. PRCC's faculty and staff often go above and beyond the daily requirements and expectations to ensure each student is cared for.
"Our enrollment growth over the past several years is a direct result of these efforts and a remarkable faculty who remain focused on changing the lives of those we serve,” Breerwood said.
Breerwood assumed leadership of the college for the 2017-2018 school year and quickly built on a strong foundation created by his predecessor, Dr. William Lewis.
A downward trend in enrollment growth has been experienced at the college level nationally for the past four years. Yet, PRCC has been able to key into something unique and special. A big emphasis has been put on providing efficient, accessible and affordable opportunities.
When comparing the 2017 and 2021 fall counts, PRCC is the only Mississippi community college to have maintained growth in both headcount and credit hours. There has been an overall 4 percent increase in students and a 10 percent increase in credit hours over this four-year period.
What is quite striking is a 72 percent growth in the credit accumulation rate during that time period. This is an indicator of progress toward on-time completion of a certificate or degree. In 2016, only 28.7 percent of students were on track. In 2019, the rate was at 49.3 percent.
“During a time of numerous struggles and enrollment challenges, Pearl River Community College has expanded support services for students, particularly first-year students,” said Vice President for Planning and Institutional Research/Hancock Campus and Dean of the Dr. William Lewis Honors Institute Dr. Jennifer Seal. “An onboarding process connects incoming students with excellent advisors and mentors to instigate successful navigation of college.
“Pearl River empowers students with the tools needed for reaching collegiate goals. Both students and communities, within the Pearl River district, recognize the high level of service provided by the institution. Exceptional service combined with recent program expansion on all campuses contribute to the continuous growth experienced over the past four years."
Pearl River’s fall enrollment is now 5,082.
TRAINING STUDENTS FOR JOBS TOMORROW
By working to create partnerships and unique opportunities, PRCC helps students acquire the skills they need to secure positions that launch careers.
Career Tech Education has added several new programs this school year to meet the needs of local communities. Commercial and Residential Construction, Massage Therapy, Coding Technology, Court Reporting, and an LPN to RN bridge program are the new offerings at Forrest County Campus. At the Hancock Campus, the Unmanned Aerial Systems Program has added additional courses in hydrography that will open more doors for graduates.
The fall semester had several Career Tech programs reach or exceed capacity for enrollment. Overall job placement rates in 2019 for CTE students across the PRCC campuses was 83 percent. The job market continues to be promising with many employers reaching out to CTE instructors seeking potential employees from current PRCC students.
Dean of Career & Technical Education for Poplarville and Hancock Campuses Dr. Amy Townsend said, “Our instructors are instrumental in helping CTE graduates connect with area business and industry partners to secure employment opportunities and to ensure our instructors stay current on workforce needs and trends.”
Many Allied Health program students have jobs lined up before graduation. For some degrees, eager employers are offering signing bonuses. The Surgical Technology program has doubled in size with groups graduating twice a year to meet growing demand of local communities.
“Our area is in great need of healthcare workers, so we at PRCC are dedicated to providing a skilled workforce to meet healthcare needs in our district,” said Vice President for Forrest County Center, Allied Health and Nursing Programs Dr. Jana Causey.
GROWTH IN E-LEARNING
Even before COVID-19 had campuses going virtual for learning, PRCC was experiencing growth in online courses. Students who may have found attending class at a fixed time in a set location can now fit learning to their individual schedules.
Comparing enrollments from Fall 2016 to Fall 2021, there was a 116 percent increase in the number of students taking online classes at PRCC. Just in the last calendar year, Pearl River saw a 24 percent increase in online class enrollment from Fall 2020 to Fall 2021.
“With this growth, PRCC’s eLearning division has been focusing on the quality of online courses through intensive training of online instructors,” said Dr. Martha Smith, Senior Vice President for Instruction/Provost. “Instructors at Pearl River have risen to many challenges in the last year and half. The enrollment increases speak to both the quality of the education and the encouragement the instructors provide to our students.”
MAKING ATTENDENCE POSSIBLE
Pearl River administration and board of directors have been attentive to the need to keep the cost of attending college as affordable as possible. Since 2017, tuition has remained steady at $1,625 per semester for in-state students. Also, PRCC made the move to electronic delivery of textbooks through RedShelf to significantly reduce out of pocket expenses for students.
Incoming freshmen who begin within a year of high school graduation have options for both academic and service-based scholarships that cover part to all the base tuition rate. Academic scholarship amounts are either tied to ACT scores and final GPA from high school or based on GPA for two-year Career-Technical program graduates. Service based ones include participation in a variety of campus activities and organizations such as athletics, band, River Navigators, and student government leadership.
The Pearl River Community College Development Foundation offers a variety of scholarship opportunities to students. These are made possible from generous donations by alumni and other community members. Since Fall 2017, 1,865 Foundation scholarships have been granted with a total value of $1,782,844.10. All students are highly encouraged to complete a Foundation scholarship application each year.
“Support from our alumni, community and industry partners play a key role in the accomplishments of our students,” said Executive Director of Development Foundation and Alumni Services Delana Harris. “Scholarships aid with enrollment but go far beyond to ensure student retention, persistence and completion of credentials. Our mission at PRCC is to create opportunities for students and scholarships are the foundation to building long-term student success.”
A final scholarship opportunity exists for residents of Forrest and Hancock counties. The County Tuition Assistance Program (CTAP) closes the gap between aid received from grants and scholarships and the cost of base tuition. Students are required to complete a FASFA form, the Foundation Scholarship application, and file for state financial aid as well as be a full-time student at PRCC. More information is found at prcc.edu/financial-aid/ctap
CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT STUDENTS DESIRE
The decision-making process of a future college student includes the need to find a school with the program they desire. Yet, the final decision goes beyond course offerings to include finding an environment that appeals to them.
Many current and past students have echoed this sentiment. At Pearl River, the Wildcats have worked hard to cultivate a positive and uplifting environment that empowers students to take control of their futures while equipping them with the necessary tools to achieve their goals.
Freshman Chassidy Brown first looked at PRCC because of the academic scholarship opportunities. It was a tour of the campus, however, that helped the Picayune native make the decision to start her college career here.
“On my tour, I felt like I was home,” said Brown. “I see the PRCC Wildcat family being supportive and willing to celebrate successes with each other. And, compared to a larger school, I have a better chance to shine.”
FOCUS ON EXPERIENCE
August 2021 saw the launch of the “Happy to Help” campaign. PRCC is committed to improving the experience of prospective and current students as well as alumni. The focus is on providing an exceptional customer experience at every touchpoint in a student’s academic career at PRCC.
This campaign focuses on putting customers first, embracing challenges in customer service, and removing roadblocks that impede the student's experience. Faculty and staff are encouraged to provide helpful support and to find the person who can best help in the situation if needed.
The live chat feature of the PRCC website has expanded hours of availability to include evenings and weekends. Questions that cannot be answered during the live chat are directed to the department most capable of handling the query. When PRCC is open for classes, visitors can interact with a chat agent Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“Creating a culture of service excellence is the goal that drives the “Happy to Help” Campaign,” said Vice President of Enrollment Management and Business Services Candace Harper. “Our frontline offices have created action plans to not only provide great customer service but to create a recipe for service that includes going the 2nd mile.
“These strategies are being implemented daily and I am excited to see our staff think outside the box on ways we can improve our service blueprint.”
High school juniors and seniors as well as any non-traditional student will have the opportunity to learn more about PRCC at the upcoming Wildcat Experience. This free event will be held on the Poplarville campus Thursday, Oct. 28 from 4 – 6 p.m. at the Centennial Courtyard behind the Administration Building.
“The Office of Recruitment is excited to host this annual event where the ‘Wildcat Way’ will be on full display, said Kari Eve Valence, coordinator of recruitment and marketing. “The Wildcat Experience is an awesome day for prospective students to meet faculty, staff, administration and current students here at The River and learn more about what it means to be a part of the Wildcat Family.”
Faculty, staff and current students will be available to cover everything from the enrollment process to what your college experience could look like as a PRCC Wildcat.
Interested students can register at prcc.edu/wildcatexperience. The first 250 students who register will have a chance to win a half-tuition scholarship for their first semester at PRCC (must be present at the event to win). Participants can also win free football tickets to that evening’s game between the Wildcats and visiting Hinds Eagles.
For more information on Pearl River or to schedule a tour, reach out to the Office of Recruitment at email@example.com or 601-403-1197.