It’s possible you have a degree waiting for you

The USM Gulf Park campus will play a significant role in the future of higher education in Mississippi.
The USM Gulf Park campus will play a significant role in the future of higher education in Mississippi. Sun Herald File

Glenn Boyce is on a mission.

The commissioner of higher education has driven from one end of the state to the other meeting with the media, with lawmakers, with anyone who’ll listen to his simple message: Higher education is an investment, not an expense.

And he hopes that’s a message that resonates with the 80 percent of Mississippians who do not have a college or university degree.

We’re happy to help him spread the word.

Boyce is right. A degree pays off not only in higher pay, but it also helps insulate the degree-holder against the whims of the economy.

“You stay employed during downturns much more significantly than those without a degree,” he said. “And that’s a big deal. Because there’s going to be upticks and downturns and recessions throughout people’s lives. And the ability to stay employed and keep your head above water during those times — that’s critical. And that’s what a degree can do for you.”

He said if the state is going to attract jobs that pay the higher salaries that in turn will boost Mississippi’s economy, it will have to have more people with degrees.

“We can’t grind our way past the people ahead of us because they’re all working to do the same thing,” he said. “We’re starting from a point much lower than they are. So we have to do something exponential — big — to catch up.”

The lowest hanging fruit are the people who may have a degree and not know it. The Institutions of Higher Learning has started the program Complete 2 Compete to help people who left college before they finished their degree “get across the finish line.”

“This might exponentially change the stats, it could change the data and show the rest of the nation that Mississippi can produce an educated workforce that is of significance,” he said.

In two months, they’ve identified about 100,000 Mississippians who could benefit. Some left community colleges with a degree they didn’t bother applying for because they were going on to a university.

“Then life got in the way,” he said. “They never completed and they never backed up and got their community college degree.”

IHL has a website where former students can have their transcripts reviewed to see if they are close to meeting or have met the requirements for a degree.

Early results are encouraging. About 15,000 have visited the website, 5,000 applied, 120 have received associate degrees and 25 now have bachelor degrees.

We urge anyone who has been to a university to check it out. And if you are close to getting a degree, we urge you to work with IHL to cross that finish line.

Why? Consider these findings from Georgetown University: By 2020, its recent study predicts, 65 percent of the jobs in America will require post-secondary education and training.

That’s a big incentive to get that degree.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.