City employees’ children to get tuition break

By HASKEL BURNS,

For Armendia Esters, a city of Hattiesburg employee and the mother of a William Carey University student, the news that children of city employees can now receive 50 percent off tuition at the university couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It’s incredible – it’s really wonderful,” said Esters, who serves as training and community coordinator for the city’s Urban Development Department. “Education is a costly investment that’s very much worth it, but this will make a measurable impact on the quality of my family’s life. We’re excited – not just for us, but for what this means in the future.”

A recent agreement between the city and the university will provide that 50 percent tuition discount to the children of any city employee, as long as the child is under 25 years old and pursuing an undergraduate degree at WCU. The agreement was approved Jan. 22 by a 5-0 vote of Hattiesburg City Council, and was signed by Mayor Toby Barker and WCU president Tommy King during a short ceremony last week at WCU’s Wilkes Hall.

“Since William Carey opened in 1906 in Hattiesburg, (it has gone) through a number of disasters – fire, damage by hurricanes, and two years ago we were almost wiped out by the tornado,” King said. “But through all of that, the city of Hattiesburg has been supportive of us, and we feel that we are one of the foster children for the city of Hattiesburg, and that’s a good feeling to have.

“We’re happy now to be able to return the favor for so many years of support.”

The agreement also provides six free credit hours per trimester at WCU as a pilot program for members of Hattiesburg Police Department and Hattiesburg Fire Department. Those free credit hours will be split between WCU and the professional development budgets of the police and fire departments.

“As we start to look at ways to try to improve the quality of life of our employees – and as we look at ways to continue to recruit quality policemen and firefighters – we’ll take a hard look at our educational incentives,” Barker said. “We feel now that we have every incentive we need to continue to build our police force and our firefighters, particularly as we continue to ramp up our public safety efforts.

“This is going to be a huge tool for us in terms of recruiting the best and brightest, and keeping them with the Hattiesburg Police Department and the Hattiesburg Fire Department. This is a very big day for Hattiesburg, and we’re very grateful for that.”

In addition to this most recent agreement, incentives available to the more than 600  city employees include free Class A Commercial Driver’s License course and certification through the Workforce Development program at Pearl River Community College and six free credit hours for firefighters and police officers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“We strive at the city of Hattiesburg to make every citizen know that they’re important, and that we’re investing in them,” Esters said. “(That’s) not just for the betterment of the community, but because each and every family is important.

“So to have that reversed, and to have it planted into families who do work for the city, is quite a blessing.”

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