Mississippi auditor calls for defunding college programs he deems tax burdens

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Dive Brief:

  • Mississippi’s state auditor is calling for the defunding of several college degree programs, arguing in a report this week that some programs disproportionately result in graduates leaving the state for work and pose a significant burden to taxpayers.
  • Shad White, a Republican, recommended Mississippi instead implement an outcomes-based funding model, citing the newly implemented system at Texas community colleges as an example. Texas now gives additional funding based on the number of students they graduate in high-demand fields.
  • While the official report’s tone is restrained, he took a strong stance in statements to the media. “I’m not sure why a plumber who pays his taxes should have to finance a degree in gender studies in Mississippi,” White said in a statement Wednesday. “Frankly, some of these programs seem like they exist just to warp the minds of young people.”

Dive Insight:

In his report, White argued that the current funding model for higher education means Mississippi taxpayers are subsidizing workforce development for big cities in other states. To help address the brain drain, he advocated for a model tying colleges’ financing to factors like meeting workforce demands and graduating students in fields with strong employment outcomes.

The state’s eight universities offer 180 degrees across 32 programs, according to the report. The Mississippi Legislature should create a workforce committee to outline which degrees are most and least needed and fund programs accordingly, the auditor’s report said.

White cited education and healthcare-related degrees as beneficial to the state, saying those graduates earned above-average salaries and were more likely to stay in Mississippi than other graduates. 

A 2022 report from White’s office found that almost half of Mississippi’s recent college graduates don’t work in the state once they earn their bachelor’s degrees. 

In contrast, White’s report this week criticized programs like women’s studies, African-American/Black studies and German language and literature for resulting in few graduates working Mississippi jobs.

“Yet the state invests just as much, per student, in these programs as in Electrical Engineering or Registered Nurse programs,” the report said.

White asserts that Mississippi colleges are incentivized to enroll students in programs with lower overhead costs, like sociology, than more expensive programs, like engineering.

“Because public universities get the same appropriation for students in both computer science and sociology, the colleges have no incentive to push high-skill degrees,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed prior to the report’s release. “We should change this by encouraging the degrees that are really important.”

“Aren’t gender-studies majors important, too?” he wrote. “If universities think so, let them raise private funds. A taxpaying plumber shouldn’t have to fund it.”

White is far from the first conservative lawmaker to criticize colleges and their academic offerings. Some Republican lawmakers have honed in on gender studies programs in particular.

The New College in Florida —  a testing ground in Gov. Ron DeSantis and conservatives’ fight to remake public education — moved to dismantle its gender studies program in August, against backlash from faculty.

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