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Report shows higher ed graduation rate below 50 percent

AROUND MISSISSIPPI — At most Mississippi colleges and universities, fewer than half the first-time students graduate within six years.

The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University are among exceptions to the graduation rates found in the College Scorecards recently released by the U.S. Department of Education.

Antonelli College-Jackson, Millsaps College and Mississippi College also have graduation rates above 50 percent. Blue Mountain College’s rate is right at 50 percent.

Some students rack up thousands of dollars in student loan debt without a diploma, The Clarion-Ledger reported.

Andrew Pride of Tupelo wants to save enough money to return to school full-time. The part-time job he took to pay his tuition at the Mississippi University for Women paid just enough to pay his bills and eat, he said.

“I really didn’t have enough money after all of that to pay even my interest on my student loans,” he said.

Federal Pell grants helped, but he has about $20,000 in student loans after three years of college.

“It got to the point where I wasn’t able to feed myself and go to school, so I had to choose survival,” he said.

He left school in December. He’s staying with his parents, waiting tables at a restaurant to pay off his loans, and trying to save.

The numbers also have troubling implications for Mississippi’s economic outlook. A more educated population typically translates into higher income and more people paying more taxes.

Mississippi colleges have lost about 3,000 students who would have been eligible for Pell grants a year or two ago, said Eric Clark, executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board. That problem will worsen in the next few years if federal budget cuts go into effect, he said.

The recently released national figures reflect first-time full-time students entering a college or university during the fall semester.

Students who transfer are counted as unsuccessful students or dropouts, said Daniel Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

The higher education community is working to produce better data of student retention and graduation that include transfers and part-time students, which should be released later this year, Hurley said. With those students factored in, graduation rates for colleges and universities typically see double digit increases, he said.

But that’s not to say college graduation rates are not an issue.

“We clearly can and must do better,” Hurley said.

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