Scorecard: College Attainment a Major Barrier in Mississippi
This month, the Mississippi Economic Policy Center (MEPC) explores the topic of education in the state – a topic that not only benefits individuals, but also their families and communities alike. For an individual, education is a fundamental asset that significantly impacts his or her earning potential and ability to advance economic opportunity in the state. However, access to post-secondary education remains a major barrier for thousands of working families and their children. According to the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s (CFED) 2014 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, a comprehensive assessment of household financial security in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Mississippi ranks last in education, and next to last, only behind West Virginia, in four-year college degree attainment.
In 2012, college attainment increased nationally and in 45 states, including Mississippi. However, Mississippi still ranks next to last in the percentage of adults with at least a 4-year degree; in Mississippi, 20.7% of adults have at least a 4-year degree compared to 29.1% of adults in the United States (See Chart). Additionally, individuals from low-income families are less likely to finish college than individuals from wealthier families. Four-year degrees are 7.3 times more prevalent among the highest-income households than among the lowest-income households (43.9% and 6.0%, respectively) in the state.
Unfortunately, states with increases in college attainment also had increases in both the percent of students graduating with debt and amount of debt, in addition to the percent of students who default on student loans. In Mississippi, 57.0% of college students graduate with student loan debt, with an average of $27,322 in student loans. Further, Mississippi has the fifth highest borrower default rate in the nation – 17.4% of Mississippi borrowers entering repayment defaulted on their student loans. High student debt burdens may limit the ability for some to build and save assets for future investments like homeownership or a small business. Likewise, high student loan default rates may provide insight into broader issues: that recent graduates have unmanageable debt burdens or are unable to secure jobs that pay a sufficient wage to cover these debt payments (Assets & Opportunity Scorecard).
Higher education creates economic prosperity for individuals and the economy as a whole. To enhance access to post-secondary education and make it more affordable in Mississippi, the state can strengthen its current financial aid programs and offer families incentives to save for college. For example, Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are long-term, asset-building accounts established for children as early as birth and provide families with a tax-free way to build assets to finance higher education.
For recommendations on how to strengthen and update Mississippi’s financial aid programs, please see MEPC’s report, Investing In Our Future.
Source: Corporation for Enterprise Development. (2014). Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, 2014. Retrieved from http://assetsandopportunity.org/scorecard/
SAVE THE DATE: MEPC’s Policy Conference “Tackling Persistent Poverty: Why Here? Why Now?” on Thursday, October 30, 2014, at the Jackson Convention Complex-Jessica Shappley Policy Analyst