University Presidents Plan Joint Task Force To Attack Region Woes

Ole Miss and Mississippi State University presidents teamed up during CREATE's "State of The Region" in Tupelo Thursday to announce a joint task force whose mission is to improve educational attainment in Northeast Mississippi. Calhoun County hopes to be one of those counties to benefit, based on the latest statistics shared at the meeting.

The Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi released its latest report at the large gathering at the BancorpSouth Convention Center that showed Calhoun, Grenada and Chickasaw counties as having the lowest percentage of population with at least a high school degree.
Calhoun County's average ACT score in 2008 was 18.2, only Marshall, Chickasaw and Clay counties were lower.
Calhoun showed a net loss of five businesses in 2008, tied with Marshall County for the the lowest in the region.
The per capita income for 2009 in Calhoun was $25,889. Among counties that don't have a community college or university, only Monroe was higher within the 15 CREATE counties.
Calhoun's strugles weren't all that different from the rest of Northeast Mississippi, however. The per capita income for the region is $27,000, which is below the state level of $30,000 and the national level of $40,000.
Only 15% of Northeast Mississippi citizens have college degrees. Mike Clayborne, President of CREATE, showed statistics that said only 14% of all ninth graders in Northeast Mississippi graduate college.
Clayborne applauded the tuition-guarantee programs in 14 of the 16 counties. Calhoun is among those that guarantee students four semesters tuition at Northwest Community College.
Dr. Darrin Webb, with the Institutions for Higher Learning, gave a presentation on the workforce of the region. he began by saying the region has lost 30,000 manufacturing jobs since 1995. More than any other region of the state, Northeast Mississippi is most dependent on manufacturing, Dr. Webb said.
He said that manufacturing made up 35%of the workforce in 2000, but only 20% today.
Dr. Webb showed that current employment levels are equal to what they were in 1996 due to the job losses.
He highlighted population trends that suggested people are moving back to the urban areas.
"People tend to move where there is opportunity and good schools," Dr. Webb said.
Calhoun ranked near the bottom in population growth, according to Dr. Webb.
After all the gloom, Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones and Mississippi State President Mark Keenum shared the stage to voice their support for one another and pledge a new partnership for Northeast Mississippi.
"There should be an expectation and accountability for our two schools to lead economic development in Northeast Mississippi," Jones said. "We're ready to take on that challenge."
"Education is the engine for economic growth," Keenum said.
He explained that research shows that Mississippians invest $7,000 per college student in Mississippi. Those that graduate college return $4 for every $1 that was invested in them during their life, Keenum said.
Jones and Keenum said they would be taking part in the task force that would involve leaders from all sectors of their respective universities with a primary mission to improve education at every level in the region and spur economic development.


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