Monday editorial 11-19

Graduation rates

Gains aside, much work

remains in NE Mississippi

High school graduation or its equivalent is the minimum level of educational achievement necessary to have a shot at economic success in today’s society. Yet even in the most recent government figures for 2000, nearly 13.5 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 nationally haven’t gotten there yet, and likely never will.

It may sound like a small percentage – and it represents a slight growth rate over the last few years – but it represents millions of Americans destined to fall short of their potential and, in some cases, to be a social and financial drain on the rest of us.

That’s nationally. In Northeast Mississippi, the situation overall is worse.

The 15-county region’s overall graduation rate is 77.88 percent, meaning more than one in five kids who should have finished school in recent years haven’t. The rate fluctuates widely, ranging from a high of 93 percent in Pontotoc County to a low of 57 percent in Clay County.

Lee, the region’s most populous county, is at an unsatisfactory 78.44. The bright side is that it represents an increase from 75.02 the previous year.

High school graduation rates are one of the key measures of community capacity used by the CREATE Foundation’s Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi to gauge annually how the region is doing in developing its resources. At minimum, the national average in high school graduation rates should be the regional goal.

That requires very intentional efforts. The Tupelo Public Schools, for example, has recognized that the pivotal year for students at risk of dropping out of school is ninth grade. With this knowledge, Tupelo High School’s now-separate ninth grade complex is structured to provide special assistance for students with academic problems that increase the likelihood they’ll quit school. Tupelo and other districts have alternative programs that separate students with disciplinary problems from their peers in hopes of salvaging their education as well as maintaining an orderly learning environment. These kinds of efforts must continue, as well as recruiting for GED programs that allow dropouts to make up for missed opportunities.

“An educated workforce” is the mantra heard repeatedly in economic development circles about what companies look for in selecting sites. When 22 percent of a region’s young people of graduation age haven’t graduated, as in Northeast Mississippi, that’s a hurdle to overcome.

An undereducated populace has negative implications for everyone – not just the individuals who didn’t complete school. Boosting Northeast Mississippi high school graduation rates must remain a high regional priority.