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1/28/2013 - Jackson, Miss.

By Dr. Hank M. Bounds
Commissioner of Higher Education

If you were to ask a classroom of first grade students what career path they plan to choose, you will likely receive answers such as “fireman” or “astronaut,” probably based on the excitement of riding on a fire truck or a spaceship, or “teacher,” based on the example set each day by their own teacher. However, as these students grow and mature, discover and develop their own talent and aptitude, and consider many other factors, including job availability and salary, these career aspirations often change.

A recent report from State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEHO) utilizing the State Policy Resource Center (SPRC) with support from the Lumina Foundation on The Economic Benefit of Postsecondary Degrees found that, yes, earning a postsecondary degree matters.

The report found that “those who obtain a bachelor’s degree have a median income of $50,360 compared to a median income of $29,423 for people with only a high school diploma. Those with a graduate degree have a median income of $68,064, 35.2 percent more than those with a bachelor’s degree.”

The report’s authors also drilled down and found that, yes, the field of study matters also, noting that “incomes vary significantly among the types of degrees by level and discipline and within each state.” Health-related disciplines provide a 123.4 percent wage premium for those holding a bachelor’s degree. The median income for this group is $56,427. The report notes that, at $62,605, the highest median income is enjoyed by those working in the STEM fields.

In 2009-2010, the number of students obtaining bachelor’s degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors and health-related majors was 272,874, compared to 254,776 business and communications graduates and 218,064 social and behavioral graduates, 195,471 arts and humanities graduates. The category with the fewest number of graduates was education, with only 71,754.

The report notes that the number of degrees produced in education has decreased by 3.2 percent from 2004-05 to 2009-10, surmising that the reason for the drop could be related to the lower income levels in education when compared to other fields. In Mississippi, the median income for those holding a bachelor’s degree and working in education is $35,063, compared to a national median income of $40,305. For those holding a graduate or professional degree and working in education in Mississippi, the median income is $45,343. The comparable national median income is $55,419.

Let’s compare these figures with the median income levels in health-related professions and STEM Fields included in the report:

  • Health-Bachelor’s Degree:
    • Mississippi: $49,374
    • National: $56,427
  • Health-Graduate or Professional Degree:
    • Mississippi: $87,867
    • National: $95,502
  • STEM-Bachelor’s Degree
    • Mississippi: $53,461
    • National: $62,605
  • STEM-Graduate or Professional Degree:
    • Mississippi: $60,959
    • National: $80,610

While increasing the number of graduates in health-related professions and STEM fields is important for our state and nation to remain healthy and competitive in a global marketplace, we must also understand that this poses additional challenges for our universities. Health-related and STEM classes are the most expensive to teach, involving laboratories and equipment that must remain cutting-edge if our students are going to be competitive when they enter the job market. Mississippi universities also face challenges with being able to offer a competitive salary to faculty members in these fields.

Increasing the number of graduates with post-secondary degrees at all levels and in all fields is important for the economic growth of our state and nation. We must ensure that our universities have the resources necessary to develop the scientists who will provide the breakthroughs in health and technology, the teachers who will teach the next generation of firemen and astronauts, the writers, artists and musicians who will continue the rich cultural heritage of our state, and the business leaders and investors who provide jobs and capital that keep our economy strong.

Our investment in Mississippi Public Universities today will enhance the quality of life for all of us tomorrow.

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