Out-of-state students in Mississippi colleges represent a huge opportunity for high-level workforce development.
Mississippi’s public colleges and universities currently have a record number of out-of-state enrollees (approximately 60% of total enrollment at our largest research universities). Our tuition for non-residents is among the lowest in the United States. It is true that a large majority of these students will leave the state after earning their degrees. However, it also represents a significant opportunity for “brain gain” within Mississippi’s workforce pool. As a friend of mine puts it, we have a four-year opportunity to recruit these students into our workforce.
Even accepting that the majority of non-native Mississippians will leave upon graduation, being able to increase retention of only a small percentage of new degree holders could pay disproportionate dividends to Mississippi’s economy. We are a state of three million people with a median household income of around $42,000. Imagine what adding 1,000 new employees making a starting salary of $60,000+ each year to the economy could do. This is too large of an opportunity to not capitalize on.
That’s what the Fast Forward Mississippi “Talent Retention and Attraction” concept policy framework is designed to do, in part. Yes, retaining our own native talent is important. But so is retaining non-natives who attend our universities. By this policy framework, corporations in Mississippi would be able to essentially guarantee their employees a sizable bonus after five years, without the burden falling on the corporation itself.
There have been some questions as to whether or not enough of the right kinds of jobs exist to make this strategy feasible. Anecdotally, I have had numerous business leaders who work with knowledge-based companies tell me that talent recruitment is one of their most significant challenges. Literally finding qualified people to fill these highly compensated jobs. For instance, there are currently between 1,200 and 2,000 coding-related development jobs that could be filled today in Mississippi. Other occupations in areas such as engineering and healthcare have similar workforce deficits.
At its core, the Talent Retention and Attraction concept policy frame work is a supply-side solution. If we have the workforce, they will come. And “they” in this equation are companies and organizations who employ knowledge workers. They will come, and importantly they will stay. Talent retention and attraction is directly related to business retention and attraction. Ask any economic developer and if they’re honest, they will tell you that qualified workforce is A#1 issue.
Incentivizing knowledge workers to stay here builds our highly qualified workforce pool, which in turn generates 21st century business retention and attraction. These companies employee higher compensated workers, which raises our per capita income.
We can do this. This policy framework is just one piece of the puzzle, but I believe it is an important one. We are blessed to have such a high number of out of state students at our world class colleges and universities. Let’s see if we can’t turn more of them into bona fide Mississippians. Let’s make the entire state a MEGASITE for the 21st century knowledge economy.
Related: Clarification: It’s Not a Tax Credit. Mississippi’s Talent Retention and Attraction Policy Framework.