By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A group of 50 educators and economic developers from 13 states are in Northeast Mississippi this week to study ways to help more students attend college.
The visitors are members of the Appalachian Higher Education Network, a consortium created in 1998 to help raise educational attainment levels in Appalachia. It is supported in part by the Appalachian Regional Commission.
They are here to learn from the success Mississippi has had in improving its college-going rate in a program funded by the ARC. Three years ago the commission began providing funding to 13 schools in communities it determined to be “distressed,” based on low median income and high poverty rate.
The money was provided in $10,000 grants to the communities to support programs they created in order to help more students attend college. It funded things like college visits, ACT preparation and help with navigating financial aid documents.
“One of the biggest issues we have in Mississippi is we need better quality workers for the jobs that are available,” said Phil Hardwick, who directs Mississippi’s role in the AHEN. “Part of this is to increase the education of the workforce, so they will be ready for those jobs.”
Three years ago, 60 percent of the graduates from those schools attended four-year colleges, community colleges or vocational schools or enrolled in the military. This year, that number improved to 82 percent.
“With that kind of success rate, the ARC and the network of directors wanted to come to Mississippi to see how the program has been a success,” Hardwick said.
The group of K-12 educators, school board members, economic developers and chamber of commerce executives met at Mississippi State University on Sunday night, and on Monday they visited Corinth High School and East Mississippi Community College. They also had lunch at the Ice House in Tupelo.
Today, they will visit Bevill State Community College in Alabama and Louisville High School.
“I think it was a good opportunity to see what is happening in another state and bring back ideas we might use,” said Susan Maxey, a school counselor from Murphy, N.C.