By Glenn Boyce, Commissioner of Higher Education
In the first half of the 20th century, there were many good jobs available to Americans who held only a high school diploma. These jobs provided stability and an income that, though not lavish, was sufficient to provide for a family who lived modestly and saved prudently. After World War II, a shift began to take place and this shift has only accelerated in the 21st century.
The rate of change in the way businesses communicate, sell, distribute and provide goods and services is incredible. Automation impacts everything from assembly lines to distribution facilities and even our own homes. Innovation and adaptability are essential for businesses and also for the individuals in the workforce. As our economy continues to become more technologically advanced, our workforce must have more credentials of value if we, as a state or a nation, will be able to compete in the global economy in which we now live and work.
Two reports from Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce underscore the importance of earning a bachelor’s degree, both in terms of job availability and earnings potential.
In its report, Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020, the Center estimates that 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school by 2020.
Those who invest in themselves by completing a bachelor’s or advanced degree will reap the benefits for the rest of their lives. The Center’s Report, The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings, finds that earning a Bachelor’s degree makes a significant difference in lifetime earnings. Nationally, the median annual income of those with a bachelor’s degree is $56,700, which equates to earning $2.3 million over a lifetime. When looking at lifetime earnings, bachelor’s degree holders earn 31 percent more than workers with an Associates degree and 74 percent more than those with just a high school diploma.
We all know Mississippi falls at the lower end when ranking states by median household income, but having a degree makes as much difference here as in other states. Census data shows that the median household income in Mississippi for a high school graduate is $25,954. The median household income in Mississippi for a college graduate is $40,952.
All 25 of the highest paying jobs in Mississippi require a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Holding a bachelor’s degree also brings stability in an uncertain job market. Unemployment rates for those with at least a bachelor’s degree are much lower than those with only a high school diploma and substantially lower than those who do not have a high school diploma.
Higher education is an investment that opens doors of opportunity for our citizens and enables our state to advance. Having more Mississippians with a bachelor’s degree makes our state more competitive.
Approximately 20 percent of Mississippians hold a bachelor’s degree or higher today, but we continue to improve this number. We have had an increase of 8.9 percent in the number of degrees conferred in the last five years, awarding 17,760 degrees, a record number, in 2017. While steady progress is good, we must raise attainment rates exponentially if we are to advance the state and grow Mississippi’s economy.
When Mississippians invest in themselves through higher education, they increase their own economic prosperity, which, in turn, increases the economic prosperity of the state. We all rise together.