USM, city sign off on educational packageBy SUBMITTED REPORTS,
Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker and The University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney D. Bennett have signed an agreement to offer up to six credit hours each semester to full-time sworn employees with the Hattiesburg Police Department and Hattiesburg Fire Department. The agreement was approved by the Hattiesburg City Council earlier this summer.
“During our first few months in office, we met with both officers and firefighters to discuss their needs, equipment and professional development opportunities,” said Barker. “By listening to those who are on the front lines of these departments on a daily basis, we pinpointed both educational opportunities and a competitive pay scale as priorities.”
The Council approved a pay-scale alignment for both departments in January and February of this year. Barker added, “This agreement was the next piece in the puzzle for meeting long-term manpower needs by recruiting more officers/firefighters and retaining the ones we have. The University of Southern Mississippi plays a critical role in our city, with both an impact on education and the economy. Weaving this institution into the very fabric of city operations allow us to think bigger and accomplish more for our citizens and employees."
While the agreement went into effect immediately after signing, both organizations will spend the next few months meeting with all shifts for both departments to provide orientation. The agreement is currently slated to support completion of undergraduate degrees only, with both traditional and online classes available for enrollment. Program enrollment will begin for the spring semester of 2019.
“I am always excited when The University of Southern Mississippi has the opportunity to expand our partnership with the City of Hattiesburg and our local community,” said Bennett. “Those opportunities are even more rewarding, however, when we are able to support our hardworking, dedicated public safety personnel. I look forward to congratulating future graduates of this program as they earn their degrees and join our alumni family.”
The program cost is shared between the City of Hattiesburg’s professional development budget in each department and The University of Southern Mississippi’s budget, with each entity splitting the cost per sworn employee, per semester.