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Investment in Higher Ed Key to Economic Growth in Mississippi

February 13, 2004

As the nation's economy shifts to knowledge- and technology-based industries, Mississippi's colleges and universities must provide expertise and leadership to attract new jobs and build a stable state economy, members of a special committee told the state House of Representatives last week.

The state must quickly commit substantial resources to higher education to achieve the goal of making Mississippi competitive in the New Economy, the chairs of the McCoy Working Group said. The group – organized by state Reps. Billy McCoy, Steve Holland and Charles Young – was created by the Mississippi Legislature last spring to develop a 20-year strategy for investment in higher education. The group is co-chaired by University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat, Commissioner of Agriculture Lester Spell and Hinds Community College President Clyde Muse.

To spur economic development, the group outlines 17 recommendations across three broad areas ­ individuals, ideas and infrastructure. Technology-based industries rely on a dependable, flexible infrastructure for support, the group argues. Moreover, the creation of new jobs requires educated and talented individuals, they say, and a culture of ideas spawns new businesses and innovations.

"Mississippians have carved out a notable niche in high-technology fields, such as precision agriculture, polymers, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and remote sensing," Muse said. "We are doing great in these areas because of the infrastructure built with legislative support and our own creativity and hard work. But we can do better."

Among other recommendations, the group suggests Mississippi cultivate a talented workforce by funding scholarships and education programs in critical areas of need. Scholarship recipients would be required to work in-state after graduation and could be placed where they are needed most.

Higher education already provides a huge boost to Mississippi's economy, employing more than 28,000 people and providing a payroll of $1.1 billion. Additionally, faculty members have started more than 20 new companies in the state during the past five years, and university research programs have helped attract several businesses to Mississippi.

Besides educating the workforce, policymakers in Mississippi can encourage the creation of new ideas by funding research programs and establishing regional research parks that foster partnerships between universities and private businesses, Khayat added. The changing demands of technology, the group concludes, will require a considerable investment in computers and other equipment for the state's colleges and universities. The group also urges educational institutions to forge stronger partnerships with industry to focus on limited resources in critical areas.

To obtain a copy of the report with the McCoy Working Group's recommendations, contact the University of Mississippi at 662-915-7236 or publicre@olemiss.edu.