First student to graduate from EMCC’s Mi-Best Program

Students dually enrolled in GED and college credit classes

MAYHEW —Mantee resident Kayle Johnson, 26, decided she wanted more of out of life.

Johnson dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and worked a succession of manual labor jobs she did not find satisfying. That all changed last March when Johnson became the first person to enroll in East Mississippi Community College’s MI-BEST program in which students can earn college credits or credentials while working on their GED.

“I just decided I wasn’t getting any younger and the MI-BEST program was a great opportunity for me to get back on the right track,” Johnson said. “I don’t have any children and I felt now was the time to act since I don’t have that added responsibility to distract me.”

Wednesday, Johnson graduates from the Manufacturing Skills Certification program. The following day she will walk with other EMCC graduates who have earned their GED. She will be the first student at EMCC to complete the MI-BEST (Mississippi’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) program, which is patterned after Washington state’s I-BEST program.

“The Washington State I-BEST was developed to create an opportunity for the student to be dually enrolled so they could get a jumpstart on their college credits while earning their GED,” EMCC Adult Basic Education Director Jim Bearden said. “They discovered through trial and error that their I-BEST students were more dedicated and motivated. They completed their high school equivalency at a much higher rate. There was less dropping out and dropping in. It became a sort of a research model just about everybody in the country had looked at.”

The MI-BEST Program, adopted by the Mississippi Board of Community Colleges, is being implemented at all 15 community colleges in the state and is funded statewide, in part, by a $6 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Each college has tweaked the program according to needs. At EMCC, college tuition for the first semester is paid through grant funds while students work on earning a GED.

“Once they finish their high school equivalency, they will qualify for the EMCC tuition guarantee program or for federal financial aid,” Bearden said.

Students also get $200 for completing their GED as an added incentive.

EMCC hired a MI-BEST navigator, Ulaunda Ivy, to help the students overcome any obstacles they may encounter.

“If they need child care, for example, I will find resources in the community to assist them with that need,” said Ivy, who also helps the students with the registration process and signs them up for entrance exams.

There are two paths students entering the MI-BEST program can take. They can enroll in courses in the Manufacturing Skills Certification program, which is a good fit for those planning on entering a trade such as welding, electrical technology or industrial maintenance. Or they can take courses in the Business & Office Technology program.

Johnson plans on entering the Business & Office Technology program and is interested in medical coding and billing and pharmacy tech courses. Once she earns her associate’s degree at EMCC, Johnson said she plans to begin work immediately on her bachelor’s degree.

Johnson said she highly recommends the MI-BEST program to others interested in earning a GED and furthering their education.


Mantee resident Kayle Johnson will be the first person to complete the MI-BEST program at EMCC. The program allows students to be dually enrolled in a GED completion program while earning college credits.

“This program has given me the extra push I needed,” Johnson said. “Because it is such a great opportunity, it makes me want to continue my education. The MI-BEST program actually helps you establish goals, which is what I needed.”