Attaining a postsecondary credential has the potential to improve the life circumstances of people across the country as well as the financial and economic health of states. As individuals secure jobs that pay living wages, they become less reliant on social services, increase their personal spending, and generate additional tax revenue for the state. These benefits are likely to increase the state’s GDP, attract new industry, expand labor market opportunities, and reduce necessary state spending.

Prior research shows that unique state contexts require tailored policy and programmatic approaches to meet attainment goals. It is crucial for states to optimize resources by identifying opportunities for increased efficiency in postsecondary spending. Pinpointing areas for targeted investment that align with labor market needs will also help states meet their goals. Equipping policymakers, advocates, and legislators with information on the returns associated with increased attainment can help move the needle towards developing a more educated and prosperous workforce and state economy.

To help states optimize resources, Ithaka S+R has identified four key activities that will help policymakers better understand labor market and educational trends and needs:

  1. Assess the current state of attainment and individual economic returns;
  2. Plan for future investments in high-value credentials;
  3. Estimate statewide economic impacts of higher education; and
  4. Recommend policy solutions that match the individual needs of the state

Our work in Mississippi

Over the past year, Ithaka S+R has partnered with the Woodward Hines Education Foundation in order to investigate the individual and state level returns to varying levels of attainment in Mississippi, match current labor supply to future demand in the state, and recommend policy solutions that align with the state’s needs.

Through our analyses we found that:

  1. By increasing its attainment rate from the current 42 percent to the target rate of 60 percent, Mississippi could potentially gain over $376 million annually in increased tax revenue and decreased social services spending.
  2. Strategically targeting postsecondary investments can help Mississippi make the most out of limited resources. Investing in programs that boost outcomes for people of color and women will have the greatest fiscal returns for individuals and the state.
  3. With over 3,000 certified teacher vacancies in the state, and a shortage of over 3,000 nurses, policies that attract and retain a qualified workforce are necessary.
  4. Creating pathways to high wage careers can help bridge the gap in expected earnings between Black and white Mississippians, and men and women.

There is great potential to better the lives of Mississippians and Mississippi’s economy through increased postsecondary attainment, but increasing attainment alone is not sufficient. By targeting the areas where additional investment is needed to realize equitable and rapid attainment rate growth, the state’s stakeholders can act with confidence as they work to improve the state’s economic outlook and the wellbeing of Mississippians.