EDITORIAL: Progress measured

Northeast Mississippi measured progress in economic goals during the past decade, but regional statistics released Thursday showed increases also must be measured by how much ground others have gained.
The CREATE Foundation’s Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi, at its annual State of the Region meeting in Tupelo, showed in its Progress Report on Regional Goals that per capita income met its goal of 70 percent of the national average by 2010, but Mississippi’s statewide average also gained, and remained numerically ahead of the 16-county northeast region.
Attaining that benchmark, however, encourages efforts to reach 75 percent of the national per capita income average by 2015.
A more important measure for achieving income and other goals is seen in educational attainment strides since 2000. The region’s adults 25 and over reached a 43.7 percent attainment level for some college attended. “High school only” completion dropped to 32 percent, while the percentage of those who dropped out before completing high school was at 24.3 percent, lower than the goal of 25 percent.
Educational attainment has been identified as the chief asset in growing prosperity. The region still trails both the national and state averages.
The region has made incremental progress in reducing its high school dropout rate to the 2010 goal of 10 percent, but most districts exceed that level despite concerted regionwide efforts to keep students in school through high school.
Nine systems/districts of 31 had rates lower than 10 percent for the 2010 academic year. Some schools topped 20 percent, which is unacceptable and self-defeating. Lee County and Tupelo both had rates above 20 percent, among the highest in the region.
The goal of providing two years of free community college tuition for each high school graduate in the region is much closer to reality. Fifteen of the 16 counties have or will have systems in place guaranteeing tuition by the start of the fall semester, and 29 of the 31 districts are able to offer students the guarantees with a combination of private foundation endowment funding, county taxpayer shares, and funding by a regional planning and development district.
Educational attainment also is increased with a successful dropout recovery program through Northeast and Itawamba community colleges’ GED/Adult Basic Education Program. The GED program, which had fewer than 100 graduates in 2001, has grown to more than 1,000 in each of the past two years. The GED is a high school diploma equivalent.
The commission made its commitments for the long haul, knowing that closing big gaps would take time and persistence. Retaining the steady course will eventually pay off.

NEMS Daily Journal