Washington, D.C., May 1, 2006—A new report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy discloses that Mississippi could dramatically reduce social-welfare costs and significantly improve its economy and overall quality of life by enhancing access to higher education.
Sponsored by USA Funds, a nonprofit corporation that serves as Mississippi’s designated guarantor of federal student loans, the report, Mississippi's Mandate: Why the Investment in Education Pays off in Mississippi, finds that the low level of educational attainment in the state carries a hefty price tag. Because only 20 percent of Mississippians 25 years and older hold bachelor’s degrees, its residents forgo an estimated $3.2 billion in personal income each year, the state loses estimated tax revenues in excess of $1.1 billion annually, and spends in excess of $9.4 million on welfare benefits and food stamps and $16.5 million to incarcerate teenage offenders.
The report highlights the public and private, economic and social benefits that accrue to both individual Mississippi citizens and to the state. For example, a bachelor’s degree recipient in Mississippi can expect to earn 1.6 times more per year than a high school graduate. In addition, more than 93 percent of people in Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree indicated that they were in “excellent, very good, or good health” compared with less than 80 percent of those with less than a high school diploma. This difference can represent savings to the state on health-related expenditures. Similar savings can be accomplished through reductions in unemployment, crime, welfare, and other conditions influenced by education levels.
Despite the clear benefits of higher education to Mississippi, affordability of a college education remains a challenge, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Mississippi had one of the highest ratios of college prices to family income in the country. Even at the state’s community colleges, families with the lowest income would have to spend half their annual income to meet net college prices. In addition, the state is ranked among the lowest in the country in providing financial aid to its students. Fortunately, a number of positive state initiatives have been developed to address education levels in the state, but more investment is needed.
Dr. Ron Phipps, a Senior Associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy and principal author of the report, said, “Research has shown that higher education consistently returns benefits to the individual and to society at all levels. Our recommendations focus on readily available strategies that will make a significant impact with modest investment.”
The report recommends that Mississippi:
- Create an entity to promote the value of education to students, their parents, and educators;
- Establish ninth grade learning academies styled after successful efforts in North Carolina;
- Provide continued support for America’s Choice and Gear-Up Mississippi;
- Increase state financial aid, particularly need-based aid;
- Encourage collaboration among Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning, the Mississippi Department of Education, and the state’s community and junior colleges to provide information for all citizens;
- Develop a statewide clearinghouse of information about financial aid; and
- Create a financial literacy program for Mississippi families.
Dr. Phipps presented these findings and recommendations in Jackson at the May 17 meeting of the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL). The IHL provided invaluable support and assistance for this project.