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5/20/2011 - Jackson, Miss.

By Dr. Hank M. Bounds
Commissioner of Higher Education

During Commencement Season, university students across the country don robes and mortar boards in preparation for one of the most important walks of their lives—the walk across the stage to accept their college diplomas. They are often joined by proud parents and other family members. Some are proud that their son has followed in their footsteps and attended their alma mater. Others are proud that their daughter is the first in the family to achieve this goal.

For all, it is a reason to celebrate. Years of hard work and determination have culminated in this moment. Along with the personal sacrifices and investment of time, the students and their families have also made a substantial investment of financial resources in obtaining this diploma. Some might question the value of the diploma when weighed against the investment of these resources.

If you were to judge the value of the diploma strictly on the earning power of the individual, you would certainly find that it is a solid investment that provides excellent returns. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income for workers who hold a bachelor’s degree is almost $47,000, compared to less than $20,000 for a high school dropout, about $27,000 for a high school graduate and $33,000 for those with some college but no degree. The median income for those with advanced degrees is $61,287.

However, to judge the value of a college education solely on the earning potential of graduates is to limit its true value severely. The benefit of a college education goes far beyond just dollars and cents. Mississippi benefits tremendously each time a graduate crosses the stage. Obviously, increased earning power means increased tax collections. In fact, a U.S. Department of Education report finds that college graduates generate $5,900 more per year in state, federal and local tax revenue than each high school graduate and generate approximately $177,000 more in tax revenue over a lifetime. For Mississippi, if we increase our bachelor’s degree attainment level by just 10 percent, we could realize over $200 million in additional tax revenue each year. This is tax revenue that can support K-12 schools, improve infrastructure, and build roads and other public facilities.

Having more college graduates makes Mississippi more attractive to business and industry when deciding where to locate. It also increases the quality of the workforce for existing businesses, allowing them to expand, thrive and prosper. Bringing in more than $400 million annually in research and development, Mississippi public universities conduct research and spur innovation that encourage and support economic growth and opportunities to benefit all Mississippians.

College graduates also benefit the state and country in numerous ways. In addition to providing more in tax revenue, they have better health and are less likely to need government programs like Medicaid. Looking beyond the cost factor, graduates are also more likely to volunteer, vote and raise healthier and better-educated children.

In addition to acquiring the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform certain job tasks, college students also develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary for adaptability in today’s job market along with the creativity and ingenuity necessary to improve systems, products and lives as we move the economy forward.

Imagine your town without the college graduates working in it. Imagine there are no teachers for your child’s classroom. There are no doctors to heal you when you’re sick. There are no architects or engineers to build the schools, clinics or hospitals. This is not a world I want to imagine. I believe Mississippi is poised to become the next booming economic development location of the New South. Together, Mississippi public universities and their graduates represent a collective, powerful and unmatched resource for advancing Mississippi and helping us reach that potential.

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