Mississippi Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves speaks to Starkville area
residents Tuesday during the W.H. “Bill” Collins Speaker Series at the John
Grisham Room in the Mitchell Memorial Library at Mississippi State University.
MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum looks on. / Courtesy Photo/Mississippi State
30, 2011 12:04:00 PMSTARKVILLE — Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the state’s
economic future hinges on making college more affordable.
“In the long term, if core inflation is at 2 or 3 percent,
our universities can’t be at 7 percent each year,” Reeves said Tuesday at
Mississippi State University. “Tuition is something I’ve talked about for eight
years (as state treasurer). No one knows better than I do what increases have
meant for the accessibility for many families across our state.”
During his campaign for lieutenant governor, he listed job
creation as his top priority. It wasn’t a surprise, given dire economic times in
the state and across the country.
Underneath the hot topic of jobs and industry is the
linchpin to economic growth: education. Reeves, who easily defeated Reform Party
candidate Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill in November, said despite increased
enrollment at junior colleges and four-year universities, college-level
education isn’t as attainable as it needs to be for Mississippians.
Tuition at four-year universities in the state has
increased by 7 percent each year over the past 10 years. Reeves, who has served
as chairman of the board of directors for the College Savings Plans of
Mississippi, said rates will continue to rise unless colleges reduce costs and
lawmakers ensure funding through legislative appropriation. Families will find
it increasingly difficult to pay for higher education, even if they lock in
current rates through the state’s prepaid tuition plans,
Reeves spoke at the W.H. “Bill” Collins Speaker Series at
the John Grisham Room in the Mitchell Memorial Library.
MSU became the first state university to top the 20,000
mark for enrollment this fall. Reeves said the boost in enrollment at MSU and
other colleges across the state is influenced by the downturn in the economy.
While the spike in enrollment is encouraging, time will tell if it translates
into increased graduation rates.
By the numbers
According to Higheredinfo.org, Mississippi ranked 33rd in
the country in bachelor’s degree graduation rates at 51.5 percent in 2009, about
4 percent below the national average. Mississippi’s average increased roughly 1
percent from 2006-2009.
A 2009 report by the National Center for Higher Education
Management showed the percentage of Mississippians between the ages of 25-64
with a bachelor’s degree or higher stood at 20.2, percent, ranking only ahead of
West Virginia’s 19 percent. Massachusetts ranked No. 1 at 41.3 percent.
“We’re making progress,” Reeves said. “I’m not one who
believes that a four-year college degree is necessary for every child,
especially when you look at some of the skill-based manufacturing jobs that have
come here to the Golden Triangle. But we need more college graduates, more high
school graduates and more kids to go to junior college and learn a skill so that
they can provide for jobs for next 20 years.”
Talking up the talent
Reeves said the easiest way to improve college enrollment
and graduation rates is through encouragement. He referenced a recent statement
from outgoing Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who said Mississippians often
The incoming lieutenant governor pointed to his own
background as a rising politician in the Republican Party as proof. Reeves, who
at age 29 became state treasurer in 2003, was advised to set his bar lower in
his first bid for a political office.
“They said, ‘Maybe you should have started in the House or
as a (county) supervisor or as dog catcher of Rankin County,’” he said. “I tell
students that story and that in the context of life there’s always going to be
naysayers. If you are willing to dream big and develop a plan to accomplish it,
and if you’re willing to work hard enough to do it, Mississippi kids can
“We need more people in leadership positions and
government telling kids this.”
Praise for priorities
Amy Tuck, former lieutenant governor and current special
assistant to the president at MSU, praised Reeves for setting an example and
encouraging the future leaders of the state.
“It’s a tremendous asset to have someone that has
education as a priority and a passion,” Tuck said. “He has already exemplified
that by his tenure in public service up to this point. Tate has been a
tremendous leader and will be for our state.”
Reeves will be sworn into office Jan. 5 and will make
legislative committee appointments the day after. Reeves will preside over a
state Senate that will include 18 new members.