In an earlier article, I have discussed the link between good schools and good communities. This link, backed up by research, is certainly an important reason to support our local schools, both public, private, K-12 and higher education. Another obvious reason, and the most important reason to me to support our schools, is that it is simply the right thing to do.
The future of our young people depends on the success of the education they receive in addition to the hopeful love and support they experience from caring adults within their school setting, at every level. Love and support for our young people, in addition to great instruction in the classroom, can equip them for success later in life and is proven to help anyone overcome personal circumstances that may otherwise prevent them from being successful.
The above-mentioned benefits of education should be enough when trying to decide if we support our schools, not only with community support but also when it comes to funding them appropriately. In addition to those, however, let me offer some other benefits of a good educational system that many may not consider when thinking of why we should have good schools. These other benefits are the economic returns of good schools.
It’s no secret that our great state struggles economically in many ways. As a lifelong Mississippian, I want us to do all we can to improve all areas of our state, including our economic condition. Consider the following reasons of how schools can be a solution to our economic problems in Mississippi.
First of all, better educated citizens have better health and a longer life expectancy according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan (2007). Some of the statistics mentioned in this study include the following. More education can reduce heart disease by 2.2%, diabetes by 1.3% and an education of an additional four years lowers the mortality rate by 1.8%. It is easy to draw a conclusion that the healthier our communities are, the better is it is for our economy.
Another drain on our economy is the high school dropout rate of our young people. According to the National Dropout Prevention Center, each year dropouts cost our country over $200 billion during the lifetime of the dropout due to lost earnings and lost tax revenue. The dropout rate can also add to the unemployment rate of a county and a state. In the same report from the Dropout Prevention Center it was noted that only 40% of adults who dropped out of school were employed. To put this in Mississippi terms, according to a PEER report provided to the Mississippi Legislature, if all dropouts in our state completed high school and earned the same average income as high school graduates, they would increase their annual income by 1.8 billion dollars collectively. The potential impact for tax revenue for our state is clear given those facts.
We are certainly not where we need to be with our high school completion rate, but according to information from the Mississippi Department of Education, the graduation rate has risen by ten percent in the last decade. Finishing high school shouldn’t be our only goal, however. Information released by the Institutes for Higher Learning (IHL) states the average household income for high school graduates in our state is around $26,000 while that of college graduates is a little over $40,000. The impact of continuing in education is obvious.
The final economic category worth mentioning would be the direct financial impact of education on the local economy from our schools. Over the past several days, I have reached out to most of our local schools to get an approximate number of total employees of our K-12 schools and the two universities in Hattiesburg. Not counting any pre-school employees, Forrest and Lamar counties have nearly 7,000 individuals employed in our schools. This includes both public, private, K-12 and higher education. I don’t have data to back this up, but one could only assume that this is single largest workforce in our area. Our two universities in Hattiesburg also invest in many ways in our local economy other than just the workforce.
According to the Area Development Partnership, the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University have invested over $300,000,000 in the greater Hattiesburg area since 2015 in addition to awarding a combined 20,000 degrees.
The question of how much should we support our schools will probably be a discussion for the rest of my life. Given the information above along with what we all believe regarding the value of our children, I would pose a different question and that is “Can we afford not to support our schools?”
Dr. Ben Burnett of Hattiesburg is executive vice president and dean of the School of Education at William Carey University.