State looks for stimulus grant to help in graduation effort

JACKSON – Federal stimulus funds are being sought in an effort to improve the state’s college graduation rate.
During Wednesday’s meeting of the Graduation Rate Task Force, which was formed by the Legislature, Johnny Franklin, education adviser for Gov. Haley Barbour, expressed hope that Mississippi would receive a $9 million Longitudinal Data System grant through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The stimulus package contains $250 million for the Longitudinal Data Systems that will be awarded to states on a competitive basis. Franklin said various entities of state government, including the Department of Education, the community colleges and the universities, are working together on Mississippi’s grant application.
According to the U.S. Department of Education Web site, the grants are supposed to be used “to capture, analyze and use student data from preschool to high school, college and the work force.”
A longitudinal data system tracks information about students over multiple years at multiple schools.
In its effort to improve graduation rates, the state’s task force has focused on the need for better data to determine exactly how many students complete post-secondary programs and how they do at each step along the process.
For instance, did a student perform poorly at a community college and drop out there or did it occur at some other point in the process?
“We want to know what happens to the child,” Franklin said “How many make it to the work force? How many stay?”
The goal, Franklin said, is to have “more completers” whether it is completion of a one-year program, two-year program, a four-year program or a graduate program. Generally speaking, more education attainment leads to better-paying jobs.
The program is one of several competitive eduction-related grant programs available to states through the stimulus package. The largest is the Race to the Top Program, which has $4.35 billion available to the states for innovative learning initiatives.
Mississippi is expected to submit its Longitudinal Data System grant proposal later this year. The Department of Education is leading the effort for a Race to the Top Grant and is expected to submit a proposal in the coming months, Franklin said.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal