Joe Max Higgins plans to leave the East Mississippi Community College Board of Trustees as soon as the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors can find a replacement.
County Administrator Jay Fisher told supervisors about Higgins’ resignation at their Tuesday meeting, and the county board approved immediately opening the application process for a new EMCC representative.
Higgins, the CEO for the Golden Triangle Development LINK — which leads industrial recruitment efforts for the region — was appointed as one of two Lowndes representatives on the EMCC board in January 2020. He was tapped to fill the unexpired term of Lance Walters, which ran through March 2023.
At a Rotary Club of Columbus meeting Tuesday at the EMCC-owned Lion Hills Center, just more than an hour after supervisors adjourned, Higgins pointed to lack of execution in workforce development as his reason for resigning.
Specifically, he said enrollment at the Communiversity — EMCC’s workforce training center in Lowndes County — lags at about 160 students. It should be at 240, he believes.
Part of the problem, he told Rotarians, is inadequate student recruitment for vocational training on the high school level, along with EMCC’s continued prioritization of athletics, especially football.
“I tendered my resignation to them boys today because I said, ‘It can’t be fixed,’” Higgins said.
“… Quite frankly, nobody’s working the high schools to get those kids pipelined (to the Communiversity). They’re just not. … But we’re more worried about the foosball (sic) team and whether we’re going to get to put new turf on the field next year.”
In a prepared statement, EMCC President Scott Alsobrooks did not directly address Higgins’ criticisms. Instead, he expressed thanks for Higgins’ service to the board, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Undoubtedly, the last 18 months have been some of the most challenging and difficult in the history of higher education, particularly at the community college level, as institutions across the state braced for the impacts brought on by the virus,” Alsobrooks said. “We are grateful for Mr. Higgins’ service to EMCC over the last year and a half. We look forward to partnering with him and the LINK on a variety of workforce and economic development projects in the future.”
EMCC’s board is composed of two members from Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay, Noxubee, Kemper and Lauderdale counties. Supervisors from each county appoint those members.
Greg Stewart is the other Lowndes representative.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.