Mississippi State Auditor Advocates for Funding Shift in Degree Programs
Mississippi State Auditor Shad White is pushing for a significant change in funding for degree programs at public universities. He aims to redirect resources away from what he refers to as “garbage fields” like women’s and African American studies, which often result in graduates leaving the state.
A recent report from the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office has highlighted this call for change, emphasizing the importance of aligning college majors with workforce needs to address Mississippi’s “brain drain” issue. This problem arises when college graduates leave the state in search of better job opportunities.
The report reveals that taxpayers invest the same amount in educating both electrical engineering and anthropology majors. However, graduates in electrical engineering earn over $71,000 annually in their Mississippi jobs, while anthropology graduates earn less than a third of that amount and often leave the state without contributing to its economy.
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“Some programs—like Women’s Studies, African-American/Black Studies, German Language and Literature—placed so few graduates in Mississippi jobs that analysts could not calculate a statistically significant median salary for those graduates. Yet the state invests just as much, per student, in these programs as in Electrical Engineering or Registered Nurse programs,” the report stated (pdf).
The state auditor’s report states that by aligning educational programs with workforce demands and promoting fields with strong employment outcomes in Mississippi, “our state can maximize the billions of dollars Mississippi taxpayers spend on higher education.”
‘Garbage Fields’ Are Bad for the Economy
Mr. White has been vocal about his views, stating that ”garbage fields” are detrimental to both students and the economy.
“Degrees in garbage fields are terrible for students,” he wrote on X on Sept. 15. “Kids graduate with debt they can’t repay. It’s the reason U.S. student debt has doubled in the last 20 years.”
He also contends that degrees in “garbage fields” are bad for the economy, producing graduates “who offer no real skills.”
He goes on to criticize universities for offering programs with questionable employment prospects.
“You know who loves degrees with cheap professors who specialize in sexual identity or urban stand-up comedy? Universities,” Mr. White writes.
“They can run these programs for nothing. It’s way cheaper to send you through sociology than aerospace engineering,” he charges. “If you sign up for one of these useless majors, ‘I call that getting tricked by a business,’ to borrow a phrase.”
“But by all means, go take that Latinx Environmental Justice class in Urban Studies. Just don’t ask taxpayers to pay for it,” he adds.
The report highlights the need to focus on degree programs that yield strong employment outcomes within Mississippi, particularly in critical sectors like health care and business. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mississippi is facing a labor shortage in such sectors.
The State Auditor’s Office suggests that public universities in Mississippi could provide better value to both taxpayers and graduates by aligning educational programs with the state’s workforce needs. The report emphasizes that retaining more graduates in Mississippi, especially those from high-earning degree programs, could significantly boost the state’s economy.
“I’m not sure why a plumber who pays his taxes should have to finance a degree in gender studies in Mississippi,” said Mr. White. “Frankly, some of these programs seem like they exist just to warp the minds of young people.”
Ranking Degrees by Value
The report shows that graduates in the health care and education fields tend to stay in Mississippi and earn good money. For example, nearly 76 percent of registered nurse graduates found jobs in the state with a median income of $55,590—higher than the average household income.
Education graduates also earned more and graduated in larger numbers.
However, some well-paying programs, like engineering and business, struggle to keep graduates in Mississippi. Only about 36 percent and 42 percent of their grads respectively remained by 2020.
Producing and keeping more of these high-earning graduates in Mississippi could bring in millions of dollars, the report states. If just over half of graduates stayed and worked in Mississippi, it could boost the state’s economy by more than $75 million annually.
But not all programs do well. Some, like anthropology and sociology, have lower incomes and graduates who often leave Mississippi. For example, anthropology graduates earned nearly $17,000 less than their peers, and they were among the least likely to stay in the state. Sociology graduates faced a similar situation, earning nearly $12,000 less than their peers, with few from the 2015–2017 cohort choosing to remain in Mississippi.
“It’s part of my job as State Auditor to show you how your taxpayer money is spent and whether it’s being spent wisely. In this case, it is not,” said Mr. White.
What are the economic implications of investing the same amount per student in degree programs with significant differences in earning potential?
Ional programs with workforce demands. This would involve reallocating resources away from degree programs that have low employment outcomes and instead investing in programs that have strong job prospects in the state.
The report from the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office highlights the disparity in funding between different degree programs. It reveals that the state invests the same amount per student in fields like electrical engineering and anthropology, despite the significant difference in earning potential for graduates. Electrical engineering graduates earn over $71,000 annually in Mississippi jobs, while anthropology graduates earn less than a third of that amount and often leave the state without contributing to its economy.
The report further states that certain programs, such as women’s studies, African-American/black studies, and German language and literature, have placed so few graduates in Mississippi jobs that the median salary for these graduates could not be calculated. Yet, the state invests the same amount per student in these programs as it does in more lucrative fields like electrical engineering or registered nurse programs.
By aligning educational programs with workforce demands, the state can maximize its investment in higher education. This would not only benefit taxpayers but also help address the issue of “brain drain” in Mississippi. Many college graduates leave the state in search of better job opportunities, resulting in a loss of talent and potential economic growth.
State Auditor Shad White has been vocal about his stance on this issue. He refers to these programs as “garbage fields” that are detrimental to both students and the economy. According to him, degrees in these fields saddle students with debt they can’t repay and produce graduates with no real skills. He criticizes universities for offering programs with questionable employment prospects and highlights the cost-effectiveness of running these programs compared to more specialized and lucrative fields.
The auditor’s report underscores the importance of focusing on degree programs that have strong employment outcomes within Mississippi. It suggests that public universities in the state can provide better value to both taxpayers and graduates by prioritizing critical sectors like health care and business. With Mississippi facing a labor shortage in these areas, aligning educational programs with workforce demands would not only benefit students but also contribute to the state’s economic growth.
In conclusion, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White advocates for a funding shift in degree programs at public universities. By redirecting resources away from fields with low employment outcomes and investing in programs that align with workforce demands, the state can maximize its investment in higher education, address the issue of ”brain drain,” and promote economic growth.
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