A recent report from the Lumina Foundation shows that the state of Mississippi has a long way to go when it comes to educational attainment. The study, titled A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, reveals that only 30.5 percent of Mississippi adults ages 25-64 held a two-year degree or better in 2013, compared to 40 percent of adults on a national level. Some progress has been made, however. In 2008, for example, only 29.3 percent of the state's adults had a college degree.
Breaking the numbers down further shows where Mississippi has room for improvement. According to the Lumina Foundation, 30.23 percent of Mississippi adults had only a high school diploma in 2013, and another 24.20 percent had some college experience, but no degree. In other words, more than 54 percent of Mississippi adults were without any type of college degree. In contrast, 9.55 percent of adults held an associate degree, 13.68 percent had their bachelor's, and 7.29 percent held a graduate or professional degree that same year.
Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for educational attainment in the state. As the National Center for Education Statistics reports, 66 institutions of higher education call Mississippi home. While some colleges and universities in the state focus only on traditional education, others offer online and hybrid degree options as well. Continue reading to learn more about the state of Mississippi and what it has to offer in terms of higher education, jobs, and standard of living.
Why Should I Earn a Degree in Mississippi?
In addition to a wealth of colleges and universities, Mississippi is also home to a wide range of industries and a healthy workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1,094,070 workers held jobs in Mississippi in 2014, earning a mean annual wage of $36,750. Some careers for college graduates showed much higher pay and employment levels, however. The following table highlights some of the top careers for degree holders in Mississippi in 2014:
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||161,410||$31,410|
|Sales and Related Occupations||115,190||$30,190|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||104,700||$20,280|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||94,320||$32,160|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||77,970||$64,210|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||75,450||$42,790|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||51,460||$40,840|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||42,020||$39,190|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||37,180||$22,080|
|Protective Service Occupations||33,320||$31,230|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||32,700||$22,640|
While many think of Mississippi as primarily an agricultural state, these employment figures show that it has much more to offer. The truth is, a number of key industries help boost Mississippi's economic power in addition to the agricultural sector. These include advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, aerospace and aviation, automotive, clean energy, defense and shipbuilding, food processing, health care, metal fabrication and steel, timber and wood products, and warehouse and distribution. The Mississippi Department of Workforce Security notes that Mississippi's central location and proximity to highways, rail systems, and sea ports helps make it a center for trade and commerce.
According to state data, the following industries are expected to see exceptional growth in Mississippi through 2020:
- Museums, Historical Sites, and Similar Institutions: 52.2 percent
- Social Assistance: 23.1 percent
- Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services: 22.5 percent
- Ambulatory Health Care Services: 21.3 percent
- Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services: 19.5 percent
- Health Care and Social Assistance: 18.5 percent
- Warehousing and Storage: 12.3 percent
Although jobs are spread throughout Mississippi, the bulk of the state's economic activity centers around its major metropolitan areas -- Gulfport-Biloxi, Hattiesburg, and Jackson. With close proximity to Louisiana and Tennessee, parts of the Memphis and New Orleans metro areas also bleed into the state.
When it comes to higher education, Mississippi has plenty to offer. Large public colleges and universities in the state include Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, University of Mississippi, and University of Southern Mississippi, among others. Meanwhile, 18 two-year public community colleges and technical schools are also located in the state. As a pioneer of higher education, Mississippi was actually the first state in the nation to create its own network of junior colleges.
An infrastructure for online education is also in place in the state. Colleges and universities offering distance learning in Mississippi include the University of Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi College, and Mississippi State University, to name just a few. Mississippi's public universities have even banded together to build a web-based catalog of online degrees available to Mississippi students. The website, which is sponsored by Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, features information on online degree options at each of the Mississippi universities and colleges that offer these programs.
In addition to jobs, schools, and economic activity, Mississippi is known for its cultural uniqueness and southern flair. Mississippi's down home cooking, delta blues, country music, and rich history attracts tourists from surrounding areas and all over the globe. And although the median household income in Mississippi is lower than the national average at $39,031 in 2013, the cost of living in the state is much lower as well. For example, the median housing value state-wide through 2013 was only $99,900. With all things considered, Mississippi is an inexpensive yet exciting place to lay down roots and build a future. Here are some additional facts about Mississippi that we bet you didn't know:
- The Mississippi River, often called Old Man River, is the longest river in the United States.
- Mississippi is home to 29 state parks, including popular and beautiful natural spaces such as Natchez National Historical Park, Jackson Zoological Park, and Vicksburg National Military Park.
- More than 60 percent of the state is covered in forestland.
- If you love blues and jazz, Mississippi is the place to be. In fact, residents in the Mississippi Delta were the first to create "Blues" music after the Civil War. Popular musicians such as BB King, Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley, and Muddy Waters also got their start in the state.
- More than 60 percent of America's farm-raised catfish is produced in Mississippi. The city of Belzoni even has a catfish museum to honor the history and traditions that surround the industry.
What Makes Mississippi Ideal for Online Education?
In a state like Mississippi where degree attainment is improving slowly, certain regions are doing better than others. As the Lumina Foundation notes, the following counties reported the highest percentage of adults with at least a two-year degree in 2013:
- Madison: 55.41 percent
- Oktibbeha: 51.14 percent
- Lafayette: 46.53 percent
- Lamar: 44.41 percent
- Rankin: 40.96 percent
With this in mind, it's important to note that the areas with the highest levels of degree attainment are located around some of Mississippi's largest cities -- Oxford, Hattisburg, and Jackson. And that's why online education in Mississippi is so important, says April D. Thompson Director of Summer, Winter and Online Sessions at the University of Mississippi. With most big schools and college-educated adults located in the state's major urban areas, distance learning is a huge asset in Mississippi. With online education, students can pursue a degree in any part of the state without having to relocate or commute to school. The flexibility online courses offer can definitely boost degree attainment, says Thompson.
Further, the fact that many online degrees in Mississippi are nearly identical to their on-campus counterparts means that students don't have to worry about receiving substandard instruction. As Thompson notes, that's definitely how the University of Mississippi's online programs operate -- with the same staff and faculty members as the school's on-campus programs.
"The faculty members are committed to student success and work to develop relationships with their online students, which greatly helps with retention and attainment," says Thompson. "Again, online programs provide access for students to obtain a degree from an accredited university while balancing family and work responsibilities."
And sometimes, that flexibility is all it takes for someone to realize they can continue their education. Just a few decades ago, students had to quit their jobs to go back to school, but online education in Mississippi has made it possible to earn a degree while raising a family and staying in the workforce.
"The ability to earn a degree online while continuing to meet the responsibilities of home and work is greatly beneficial to those students who are committed to their education and career advancement," says Thompson.
Top 10 Degrees in Mississippi
Although plenty of on-campus and online degrees in Mississippi show promise, several stand out in terms of future job prospects and salary outlook. Using data from the U.S. Department of Labor, we created this list of top college degrees for Mississippi students:
Occupational Therapy Assistant
Earning a degree in occupational therapy assisting from an accredited school is the best way to begin a career as an occupational therapy assistant. Because of growing demand for occupational therapy in Mississippi, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of occupational therapy assistants in the state could surge as much as 37 percent from 2012 to 2022. Even more, these workers earned a mean annual wage of $53,920 in 2014, which is considerably higher than the state average.
Diagnostic Medical Sonography
In diagnostic medical sonography programs, students learn how to use ultrasound technology to assess various medical conditions. Because of the demand for ultrasound as a diagnostic tool, employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to increase 37 percent in Mississippi from 2012 to 2022. High wages for these workers also adds to the value of this two-year degree program. As of 2014, diagnostic medical sonographers in the state earned a mean annual wage of $55,010.
Physical Therapy Assistant
An associate degree in physical therapy assisting is a great way to begin a career as an assistant to a licensed physical therapist. And since many health professionals are turning to physical therapy in place of more intrusive and expensive therapies, job prospects for this career are expected to be excellent. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that demand for these workers will increase 33 percent in Mississippi from 2012 to 2022. A high mean annual wage of $46,270 in 2014 also adds to the allure of this profession.
Although majoring in a foreign language could open the door to a number of careers, the most popular option is becoming an interpreter or translator. And with use of foreign languages in the United States on the rise, degrees in this field are becoming a solid investment. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that demand for interpreters and translators could increase by as much as 33 percent in Mississippi from 2012 to 2022. Furthermore, these professionals earned a mean annual wage of $37,120 in the state in 2014.
A bachelor's degree in computer science could lead to a career in a wide range of technology jobs. Included on that list are information security analyst, software developers of systems software or applications, and computer systems analysts -- all jobs which are expected to see exceptional growth in Mississippi from 2012 to 2022. High wages for workers also add to the popularity of this degree. In 2014, information security analysts, software developers of systems software, software developers of applications, and computer systems analysts earned mean annual wages of $61,960, $79,670, $83,720, and $65,110, respectively, in the state.
Because businesses of all kinds rely on marketing professionals to market and create buzz around their products, this degree could be an especially good investment. As the U.S. Department of Labor notes, employment of market research analysts and marketing specialists in Mississippi is projected to increase 28 percent between 2012 and 2022. In 2014, these professionals earned a mean annual wage of $52,790, higher than the state's average.
A degree in hospitality management could lead to a number of careers in the hotel, resort, and travel sector. However, it can also lead to a career as a meeting, convention, or event planner -- a profession which is expected to see a 27 percent growth in employment from 2012 to 2022. In 2014, these workers earned a mean annual wage of $36,280 for their services.
Getting started as a dental hygienist requires earning an associate degree in dental hygiene from an accredited school. Due to the ongoing demand for dental care, a degree in this field could be an excellent investment. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job openings for dental hygienists in Mississippi could surge by as much as 25 percent from 2012 to 2022. And with a mean annual wage of $53,310 in 2014, this profession is definitely worth considering.
Biomedical Technology or Engineering
Earning an associate degree in biomedical technology or engineering is a great way to get started as a medical equipment repairer. Labor data shows that job openings for these professionals could increase by as much as 24 percent from 2012 to 2022. In 2014, medical equipment repairers earned a mean annual wage of $43,170, which is higher than the average for all occupations in the state combined.
Along with nearly every other major related to health care and biological science, medical technology is a great choice for students looking to enter a growing and potentially lucrative field. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of medical and clinical laboratory technicians will increase 23 percent from 2012 to 2022. With just a two-year degree, these workers pulled in a mean annual wage of $35,010 in Mississippi in 2014.
Top Cities for Mississippi College Students
With a population of 171,155 in 2014, Jackson, Mississippi is the state's most populous city. Located on the Pearl River, Jackson is a center for gospel and jazz music and southern culture. The city is also booming with opportunities to experience the arts, with institutions such as Ballet Mississippi, the Mississippi Museum of Art, and the Mississippi Opera within city limits. Meanwhile, low housing costs add to the allure of the area. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median housing value in Jackson through 2013 was only $89,700.
The National Center for Education Statistics lists 12 colleges, universities, and trade schools as prominent in the area. Here are the top schools in Jackson:
With a student population of 4,114 in 2014, Belhaven University offers both online and on-campus associate, bachelor's, master's, and certificate programs. The school currently boasts 27 undergraduate majors, plus a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to $20,780. Here are a few of the school's most popular degree programs:
- Online Bachelor of Business Administration
- Online RN to BSN
- Online Master of Health Administration
Jackson State University
Jackson State University is a four-year, public school that offers undergraduate and professional degrees in a wide range of disciplines. In addition to its campus programming, the school also has online courses and degree programs available through JSUOnline. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to only $6,602 for in-state students. The following degree programs are some of their most popular:
- Online Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration
- Online Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Bachelor of Science in Accounting
As a private, four-year college, Millsaps had a student enrollment of just 842 students in 2014. The school offers a wide range of bachelor's and graduate degree programs in fields such as liberal arts, science, and accounting. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were $33,982, and the school is known for these popular programs:
- Bachelor of Arts in Economics
- Bachelor of Science in Mathematics
- Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting
Gulfport is Mississippi's second-largest city, with a population of 71,750 in 2014. In addition to being a center for commerce, Gulfport's six miles of sandy beachfront have also put it on the map as a tourist destination. Top employers in the area include the Naval Construction Battalion Center, Memorial Hospital, Harrison County School District, and Island View Casino.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that four institutions of higher education are currently active in Gulfport. Here are the top three:
Blue Cliff College
Blue Cliff College is a private, two-year school that offers a wide range of technical and vocational degree programs. An enrollment of just 178 students helps them keep class sizes small, which is why they have a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1. In addition to their on-campus programs, Blue Cliff College recently began offering a diverse array of distance learning options. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were $15,536, and their most popular programs are as follows:
- Online Health Information Management, Billing and Coding
- Dental Assistant Training Program
- Massage Therapy Diploma Program
Infinity Career College
As a small, private for-profit school, Infinity Career College had just 27 students at their Gulfport location in 2014. This barber and hairstyling college offers certificate and diploma programs aimed at preparing students for the workforce. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were $11,100. Some of their popular course offerings include:
Miller-Motte Technical College-Gulfport
Miller-Motte is a two-year technical college that offers associate degrees and certificates for career-ready students. Current enrollment includes just 160 students at their Gulfport location, although each has access to dozens of degree programs in fields such as accounting, medical assisting, and network administration. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were $10,500, and the school is known for these programs:
- Associate degree in Respiratory Therapy
- Associate degree in Surgical Technology
- Nursing Assistant Certificate
Hattiesburg, Mississippi is one of the largest cities in the state and the cornerstone of the Hattiesburg metropolitan statistical area. The city boasts plenty of opportunity for exposure to arts and culture, with plenty of theatres, art galleries, and museums within its limits. A relatively large percentage of Hattiesburg adults (31.2 percent) held a bachelor's degree or higher in 2013, and 83.1 percent had at least a high school diploma. In addition to everything else, low housing costs help make Hattiesburg an attractive place to start a family. As of 2013, the median housing value was only $111,900.
Currently, six institutions of higher education call the Hattiesburg area home. Here are a few of the most prominent:
University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi offers more than 180 degree programs through its six colleges. With an enrollment of 14,792 students, the school has a tradition of preparing students for the workforce and improving the local community. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were just $6,980 for in-state students. Here are a few of their popular degree options:
- Online Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering Technology
- Online Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering Technology
- Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Language
William Carey University
A four-year, private school, William Carey University offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degrees to a little under 4,000 students. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were $11,400, and these are some of their top programs:
- Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Master of Education
Antonelli College is a two-year, private school with an enrollment of just 209 students. The school offers associate and certificate programs in fields such as business, graphic arts and design, and health care. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were $15,980, and some of their popular programs include:
- Associate degree in Business Management
- Associate degree in Hospitality Management
- Associate of Applied Science in Dental Assisting
Scholarships and Financial Aid
According to recent figures from the College Board, college tuition in Mississippi is lower than the national average. Here's how average tuition prices for the 2014-15 school year break down by school type (all figures are in current dollars):
- Public, Two-Year: $2,526
- Public, Four-Year: $6,861
- Private, Nonprofit Four-Year: $15,323
It's important to note, however, that students pursuing on-campus or online degrees in Mississippi can qualify for federal or state student aid. In order to do so, students should first fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form. Types of federal aid can include Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
Rise Up Mississippi, an initiative of MS Institutions of Higher Learning, lists plenty of additional aid opportunities on its website. State-based scholarship and financial aid opportunities include:
- Mississippi Higher Education Legislative Plan (HELP)
- Mississippi Eminent Scholars Grant
- Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant
- Nissan Scholarship
- Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers and Firemen Scholarship
- Mississippi Nursing Education Loan/Scholarship
- Mississippi State Dental Education Loan/Scholarship
- Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program
In addition to these options, many Mississippi colleges and universities offer their own opportunities for financial aid. Students considering an on-campus or online degree in Mississippi should check with their college's financial aid office for more information.
A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, Lumina Foundation, Mississippi, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#mississippi
College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Mississippi, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=MS
Distance Learning - Online Degree Programs, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Education, http://www.mississippi.edu/oasa/online/
Fastest Growing Occupations, CareerOneStop, Mississippi, http://acinet.org/oview1.asp?next=oview1&Level=edu4&optstatus=&jobfam=&id=1&nodeid=3&soccode=&stfips=28&ShowAll=
Industry Employment Projections, Year 2010 Projected to Year 2020, State of Mississippi, http://mdes.ms.gov/media/8194/state.pdf
Industry Overview, Workforce Mississippi, http://www.workforcems.org/index.php?id=39
Interview with April D. Thompson Director of Summer, Winter and Online Sessions at the University of Mississippi, August 20, 2015
May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Mississippi, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ms.htm
Rise Up! Mississippi, http://riseupms.com/
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Gulfport, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/28/2829700.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Hattiesburg, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/28/2831020.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Mississippi, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/28000.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Jackson, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/28/2836000.html
Tuition and Fees by Sector and State Over Time, College Board, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-time