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Clark’s message was dead on right

Eric Clark, former Secretary of State of Mississippi and current Executive Director of the Mississippi Board for Community and Junior Colleges, knows a thing or two about the need for improved education in our state.  After all, his biography reads:

“Clark received a bachelor’s degree from Millsaps College, a master’s degree from the University of Mississippi and a doctorate in history from Mississippi State University. A former public school and community college teacher, he also taught history and government at Mississippi College. Additionally, he manages his family’s tree farm in Smith County.”

Clark was the featured speaker at last Thursday’s Business and Industry Appreciation Luncheon at the conclusion of the 17th annual Career Fair at Co-Lin.  His analysis of the past and current educational conditions in our state is precisely correct, and his outline of 21st century Mississippi educational needs is stark and profound.

Clark says that Mississippians depended mainly on the land to make a living directly and indirectly up until 1940 or so.  After the Balance Agriculture With Industry act was passed under the direction of Gov. Hugh White in 1936, and eventually aided by the military build-up of World War II, people worked in the factories to earn a living.  Then, beginning in the mid-1980’s, Clark says, Mississippians and Americans began losing those type jobs first to Mexico, then to the Far East.  What followed next is the harbinger of Clark’s analysis.

Clark says that because of this evolution in our state economy, Mississippians must be better educated for 21st century jobs.  Are you seeing the connection to our communities?

“No longer are we just required to be able to work hard to earn a living, now we must be able to work smart,” he said.

Clark hammered home his point with a couple of eye-opening labor statistics from the US Department of Labor.  In 1950 60% of Mississippi jobs were considered unskilled, 20% were skilled and 20% were professional.  In 2008 only 15% are unskilled, 65% are skilled and 20% are professional.  In addition, the number of skilled jobs is expected to climb 320% by the year 2020.

Now, Clark was stumping mostly for the community college/workforce training system in the state, as it is best equipped to handle such specialized training for large industries and large groups of people and at a manageable cost.  The CC system in the state teaches around 275,000 Mississippians – about 10% of our population – each year.  But, his words also apply directly to our very own k-12’s in Copiah County.

Clark said that because more and more jobs are becoming highly skilled, we must have an education system that prepares our local students to achieve at the next level.  Our students must not only graduate, but must also be educated in technical areas.  Furthermore, the dropout rate has to improve.  Numbers from the USDL prove that with each level of education a person achieves, his income increases, he is healthier and decreases his chances of becoming a burden on the state, he is more likely to vote, he is more likely to be a blood donor and his quality of life overall improves.

Putting it bluntly, an educated person is predictably an asset to society; conversely, an uneducated one most likely becomes a burden.  That’s the proof in the pudding.

Co-Lin is doing an excellent job on their end and has been seeing this day coming for a long time.  The Workforce Development Programs at the school in Wesson have helped literally thousands of area blue and white collar workers land and retain jobs and improve their lives.  Southwest Mississippi is much better off today because of it.

What can we do better here in Copiah County in our k-12’s to ensure that our students a.) earn their high school diploma with more than just basic knowledge, b.) continue on to higher learning at Co-Lin, other CC’s or universities, c.) receive degrees in highly sought after technical studies, and possibly continue on to achieve professional status?  These are issues that need to be addressed today.  Tomorrow’s jobs are here now, and more could be on their way.

Joe Buck Coates

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