The University of Southern Mississippi will soon offer up to six credit hours, tuition free, 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 and was recently signed by Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker and USM President Rodney Bennett. Mayor Barker said the agreement now provides one more incentive for professionals at HPD and HFD to come and stay at the City of Hattiesburg.
“When we took office, we knew of the manpower shortages in both our police and fire departments,” Barker said in a social media post. “We heard it from every neighborhood town hall meeting. We heard it from officers and firefighters.”
During the summer of 2017, Barker said they met with both officers and firefighters to discuss their needs, equipment and professional development opportunities.
“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,” Barker said.
Earlier in 2018, the Hattiesburg City Council took a major step forward in approving new pay scales for both departments. Those pay scales have been fully funded in each budget year.
“This agreement is 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,” Barker said. “Weaving this institution into the very fabric of city operations allow us to think bigger and accomplish more for our citizens and employees.”
The City of Hattiesburg and USM will spend the next few months meeting with all shifts for both HPD and HFD to provide orientation. The partnership will support completion of undergraduate degrees only, with both traditional and online classes available for enrollment. Program enrollment is set to begin for the spring semester of 2019.