Enrollment numbers across Mississippi’s public and private universities are down, but the number of degrees awarded has increased, which members of the Education Achievement Council said is generally a good thing.
The rationale is obvious to council member Glenn Boyce. A person with higher credentials will have more economic stability and therefore be able to contribute more to the state’s economy.
“When the state of Mississippi is out there trying to land economic development opportunities, or they’re trying to bring money into the state of Mississippi from outside, the first thing corporations are going to look at is do you have the kind of labor force I need to operate successfully and make a profit in your state?” Boyce said.
“Either your state is going to educate people to a much more sophisticated level, or these opportunities are not going to be in consideration for your state.”
Graduation and enrollment numbers were some of the statistics cited at the Thursday meeting, where the council doled out its annual report cards for the state’s public universities and community colleges.
Boyce announced at the Thursday board meeting that 234,222 Mississippians were enrolled in some sort of higher learning institution in 2012 — about five percent more than in 2016 when 222,444 were enrolled.
Conversely, Boyce noted, about 12 percent more degrees were earned in 2016 than there were in 2012.
“In 2012 there were 36,218 [degrees awarded] from all sectors,” Boyce said. “By the time you get to 2016 there’s 40,480.”
Enrollment numbers for the eight public universities in the state have collectively increased by about nine percent since 2011.
Council members expressed that the degree statistics carry greater weight than the total number of students enrolling in college. That’s because while enrollment numbers indicate what kind of access Mississippians have to higher education, they say the real challenge is retaining those students.
“The ultimate goal is to be able to retain students and have them cross the finish line,” said Education Achievement Council member Andrea Mayfield.
Council members also discussed how to better assist adult learners (those older than 25), who on a national scale now outnumber college students in the 18-21 age range.
“This is a critical group for us in the state of Mississippi to get across the finish line,” Boyce said.
Senator Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, echoed the need to help more adults achieve some sort of certification.
“It makes them much more marketable for employment and gives them a better chance at success,” said Harkins, who chairs the Senate Universities and Colleges Committee. “So I think it’s really important that we give the opportunity to everybody to finish and to be more marketable, to be a better potential employee for anybody who’s going to hire them.”
See how Mississippi’s colleges and universities are doing: