OUR OPINION: Universities attract record enrollment

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s eight public universities enrolled almost 4,000 students more for the 2011-2012 first semester than a year ago, and the 17th consecutive enrollment increase, at 5.2 percent, is the largest.
Moving those 76,887 students to graduation and a degree is more challenging than getting them on campus, but university officials and state leaders have good reason to see improved economic opportunity down the road.
Mississippi has one of the lowest percentages of residents holding baccalaureate degrees, a factor linked to the overall measure of any state’s economy.
If the prevailing average holds, or perhaps improves, slightly more than 52 percent of the students enrolled this fall will have earned a degree within five years, the state’s Institutions of Higher Learning research has found.
The percentage should rise because retention of students between freshman and sophomore years is increasing, too.
The degree-holding students can expect to almost immediately earn 40 percent more in their jobs than peers with only some college. In the span of a working lifetime, the difference can become millions of dollars, especially if advanced degrees are earned.
Every university except one showed a higher enrollment.
Two schools, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, counting all their campuses, both have more than 20,000 students for the first time, and both want to continue growing.
Having more students requires a serious reassessment by the Legislature of the support it provides for all the universities from taxpayer sources. The per-student expenditure in Mississippi universities this year is $1,000 less than it was in 2000.
Each of the 76,887 students expects a better education than was available a decade ago. Facilities, faculties and other academic resources cannot be allowed to lag behind.
ACT, Inc. the company that administers the American College Test, offered encouraging news that should spur even greater effort: More Mississippi students who take the test are better prepared for college work.
Mississippi public universities also offer services, including tutoring, mentoring and remediation to help students succeed. Through a system-wide initiative, several Mississippi universities participated in a pilot program to redesign courses with the goal of improving instruction and increasing passage rates in lower-division courses, thus lowering the costs to the students and removing a roadblock to college completion, IHL reports.
Universities also have programs to help students adjust to college classroom expectations.
“Increasing post-secondary degree attainment is a critical need in our state,” Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds said.
The universities hold our state’s intellectual potential, and it must be nurtured.