EDITORIAL: Degree Push

By NEMS Daily Journal

Itawamba Community College’s stepped-up efforts to improve its graduation rate are in line with an increasing national emphasis on educational attainment and proficiency, focused on prosperity for rising generations soon entering the workforce.
ICC, which has more than 8,000 students on its Fulton and Tupelo campuses, is making it easier to apply for the associates degrees it offers – and the value of the degree as a credential cannot be overestimated.
Students at ICC can now use the Internet to apply for graduation, and they have the option of receiving a degree without attending graduation, a ritual many of today’s students find perfunctory.
ICC’s new emphasis is set in the context of a month filled with news about the achievements and rankings of America’s students.
President Obama devoted significant attention to education reform, research and achievement during his Tuesday night State of the Union speech.
Economists speaking at the 2011 Economic Forecast Conference on Thursday in Tupelo stressed the dim job prospects for under-educated 18-to-28-year-olds entering the market.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics provides even more compelling data:
• In 2009, people with an associate’s degree earned a third more weekly ($761) as a median than people with less than a high school diploma (less than $500).
• If people with associate’s degrees went on to earn a baccalaureate degree, they made a median 25 percent more weekly ($1,025) than those with a two-year degree.
• Even more enticing, a master’s degree ($1,257), professional degrees and doctorates (both about $1,530) drove the median weekly wage to 40 percent to 100 percent more than an associate’s degree, and four times the median for less than a high school diploma.
People with more education were also less likely to be unemployed. In 2009 just 2.5 percent of workers with doctorates were jobless, 6.8 percent with an associate degree, but 14.6 percent with less than high school diploma.
ICC, in the process of evaluating its degree percentages, conferred degrees on a group of students it found who had met the school’s requirements but had not applied to graduate.
Education matters, and it is clearly a ticket upgrade in the job market, especially if the right skills and knowledge are earned and learned.
“The campaign has been trying to communicate the value of the degree you receive from any of our community colleges,” said Mike Eaton, ICC assistant to the president and co-chairman of the college’s task force. “You make more money, you’re more likely to be employed and you have more job security.”
By the fall of 2009, ICC had graduated 22 percent of the students who had enrolled in the college three years earlier, during the fall of 2006. That total is slightly lower than the state average of 24 percent, and slightly higher than nearby East Mississippi Community College (21 percent), Northeast Mississippi Community College (19) and Northwest Mississippi Community College (15). That data comes from the U.S. Department of Education.
ICC’s push parallels nationwide efforts among community colleges and within Mississippi also includes all eight public universities.
CREATE Senior Vice President Lewis Whitfield said it would be much better for students who enroll and later transfer to a university to get their associate’s degree so they could have something to fall back upon until they earn a bachelor’s degree. Whitfield, who specializes in studying the region’s educational attainment, will be the official host for the annual Dropout Prevention Summit at the University of Mississippi’s Tupelo Campus on Feb. 4.
Every institution’s participation is necessary in raising educational attainment, especially in marketing the fact that degrees matter in a person’s pocketbook over the span of a working life.