Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning Commissioner Glenn Boyce says the state needs to retain more of its college-educated residents and also add to their ranks to help Mississippi keep pace in the global economy.
Boyce made his remarks at the Stennis Capitol Press Club Forum Monday. He manages the state's system of eight universities and satellite campuses, which have 95,000 combined attendance annually.
One of the biggest problems the state faces, Boyce said, was the outflow of its college graduates to neighboring states. Healthcare, he said, was an exception to the trend because there are plenty of job opportunities for them here. He said 70 percent graduates from the state's engineering schools leave the state for employment and between 70 and 75 percent of technical graduates leave as well.
"We've got to keep our students and children at home," Boyce said.
Also, he said the state's lack of residents with associate, bachelor and advanced degrees will make the state less competitive in the coming years. He cited a recent Georgetown University study that says 65 percent of the nation's jobs by 2020 will require some kind of post-secondary education.
That's a problem for Mississippi, he says, because the state is 49th in the number of residents with some sort of post-secondary degree, in front of only West Virginia. According to IHL data, only 20.7 percent of the state's population have a bachelor's degree.
Nationally, 36 percent have at least a bachelor's degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
"We as a state, if we don't improve post-secondary attainment — quick, fast and hard — we will not be able to compete for the future," Boyce said. "From what I've observed over the past few years since the recession, I'm not sure we can compete in the present.
"That's one of my major issues and I've gone all over the state to talk about it is we have to exponentially increase attainment at the post-secondary level in the state of Mississippi. We're going to be in trouble if we don't."
He said the state has some of the best access to college nationally, but that the main issue is that too many students leave school before completing their degrees. That's where the Complete to Compete initiative fills the gap.
The program helps what the state estimates is 32,000 adult residents who might've earned enough credits for a degree, but never received one and 127,000 needing only a few courses to complete their degrees. The IHL estimates that 22.8 percent of the state's population has some college experience without earning a degree.
The number of residents that require only a few classes to qualify for a degree outnumbers the combined population of Biloxi and Gulfport, which is more than 118,000.
Boyce said the response has been overwhelming and he is hopeful that the program will allow the state to jump up several spots in the post-secondary education attainment rankings.
He said that for every dollar spent by taxpayers on IHL, the state's economy grew by $3.21. He added that the IHL has an annual impact of $2.5 billion on the state's economy and helped in the creation of more than 59,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Boyce started his education career as a teacher, was principal at Northwest Rankin High School before becoming president of Holmes Community College for nine years