Educational Attainment in Southern Mississippi: Understanding the Challenges and Solutions

Mississippi is one of the lowest states in terms of obtaining two-year college degrees, with only 28.8 percent of adults having at least a two-year degree, compared to 37.7 percent of adults in the United States. This is a significant difference, and it is important to understand why this is the case and what can be done to improve educational attainment levels in the state. In 1990, the total population of the United States had a high school diploma or higher education level at 75.2 percent, with whites at 77.9 percent and blacks at 63.1 percent. In Mississippi, however, these numbers were much lower, with a rate of 64.3 percent for the total population, including 71.7 percent for whites and 47.3 percent for blacks. This gap between educational achievement in Mississippi and the rest of the nation, as well as between white and black Mississippians, is equally dramatic for those with a bachelor's degree or higher degree. Compared to 20.3 percent of the total population of the United States, only 14.7 percent of the population of Mississippi had a bachelor's degree or higher.

Across the country, the numbers for whites and blacks were 21.5 percent and 11.4 percent respectively, compared to 17.2 percent for whites in Mississippi and 8.8 percent for blacks in Mississippi. Only Arkansas and West Virginia lagged behind Mississippi in terms of equivalent educational levels. In 1998, Mississippi began providing an increase of at least 8 percent for educational services in each district, which was implemented gradually over a six-year period. Thomas Layzell, Mississippi's higher education commissioner, believes that the state's community colleges are the primary providers of education for development or recovery in the higher education system. The Southern Education Foundation reports that the number of students participating in the 1997 summer recovery program increased to 303 students, of whom 273 completed the program. The Public Education Forum is funded by companies across Mississippi to encourage business participation in education policy and legislation. The plaintiffs argued that the formula should be adjusted to take into account the higher cost of corrective education, citing evidence that a disproportionately high number of black students in Mississippi are not prepared for college and that such an adjustment would encourage historically white institutions to offer remedial courses and attract black students and would help historically black institutions provide the corrective instruction their students need. However, access to higher education remains a major barrier for thousands of working families and their children, particularly in Mississippi.

The Department of Education estimates that in 1993, Mississippi had 221 private elementary and secondary schools serving 58,655 students. Cosby, a sociologist at Mississippi State University, suggests that the failure of the Mississippi school system to achieve integration has had a negative impact on education in general. James Hemphill, special assistant to the state superintendent and director of external relations for the Mississippi State Department of Education, this is particularly evident in the Delta, where the economy is so exhausted that it is extremely difficult to obtain a quality education. This can be attributed in part to the State Legislature implementing, despite the governor's veto, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. In March 1997, the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education informed Texas officials that it would open a review to determine if any vestiges of previous discrimination were causing discrimination to continue in Texas. The lack of educational attainment levels in Southern Mississippi is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently. The state has been lagging behind other states when it comes to educational attainment levels since 1990 due to various factors such as lack of access to quality education and inadequate funding for educational services. In order to improve educational attainment levels in Southern Mississippi, it is important to focus on providing access to quality education by increasing funding for educational services and encouraging businesses to participate in education policy and legislation. It is also important to address any vestiges of previous discrimination that may be causing discrimination against certain groups when it comes to access to quality education.

Finally, it is important to ensure that all students have access to corrective instruction they need so they can be better prepared for college.

Abby Parrett
Abby Parrett

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