Task force says bringing good jobs is its goal

JACKSON – Members of a task force developed to increase the number of college graduates in Mississippi say their ultimate goal is to bring better jobs to the state.
“If we’re not getting more kids through the community colleges and the universities, we will not have the type of work force needed to attract the jobs than can move this state forward,” said Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson, who is a member of the Graduation Rate Task Force created by the 2009 Legislature.
Various studies have placed a value on a college degree. One, done in a 2008 study by U.S. News and World Report, estimated that a college graduate earns about $20,000 per year more than a high school graduate.
Mississippi has a smaller percentage of its population with college degrees than both the national and Southeastern averages.
The task force members heard statistics Thursday that show a large number of Mississippians are dropping out of the state’s colleges and universities without ever earning a degree.
Kevin Crockett, president of Noel-Levitz, a national higher education consulting firm, said less than half of the freshmen entering Mississippi’s public universities and colleges are graduating in a six-year period.
To improve those statistics, “the change has to take place at the institution level,” adding the goals of individual schools could be “rolled into a statewide plan.”
He cited the need for comprehensive retention plans that included programs to identify and help students at risk of dropping out of school.
“If students get a high level of counselors and advisers, they tend to stay in college and complete programs of study at a lot higher rate,” Crockett said.
Those states that improved college graduation rates, he said, had the universities, community colleges, business leaders and political leaders engaged in the process.
The task force, co-chaired by the chairs of the Legislature’s Universities and Colleges committees, Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, in the House and Doug Davis, R-Hernando, in the Senate, started meeting earlier this summer. It will make recommendations at the end of the year.
House Education Committee Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, a member of the task force, said he hopes those recommendations can be dealt with by the boards that oversee the universities and community colleges and does not entail the need for legislation.
“We hope to give more kids the opportunity to expand their education,” Brown said. “It’s all about jobs.”

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal