Editorial Roundup

Cutting aid not long-term solution

In Mississippi, a state with a low percentage of adults with a college degree compared to the nation, it’s good public policy to try to keep college affordable.

There are only two ways to do that: either hold down tuition and other related costs, or increase the amount of financial aid available.

On both fronts, due to years of sluggish tax collections, Mississippi has been going in the wrong direction.

State lawmakers, when faced with having to make choices of where to cut education spending in recent years, have steadily gone with sparing K-12 schools relative to their college counterparts. That, in turn, has forced the institutions of higher learning, especially the  universities, to raise tuition much faster than inflation.

In the past, some of that blow has been cushioned by state-funded financial aid programs, which have been especially critical for students coming from families of modest means.

That aid, though, is also now being reduced to adjust to current budget realities. Lawmakers have recently directed the state Office of Student Financial Aid to end the practice of “stacking” — that is, awarding more than one of the state’s five grant programs to a student. Going forward, students will only be eligible for receiving aid from the program that will award them the largest amount. It’s estimated that about 3,400 students will see their total grant award from the state reduced as a result of this change.

Given the financial realities, that’s a sensible course to take. Better to spread the available aid around rather than have it concentrated in the hands of fewer students.

Nevertheless, Mississippi needs to adopt and stick with a long-term strategy to curb the rising cost of college and the amount of debt with which in-state students are stuck. That means reversing some of the budget cuts that the community colleges and universities have had to take, while also holding their feet to the fire to better control their costs. It means putting more money into financial aid, but also telling the schools to stop eating up these increases, as they often have in the past, with tuition and fee hikes.  It also may mean rethinking the trend at some of the state’s universities to lower the cost of tuition for out-of-state students.

Certainly it’s a nice theory that state-supported tuition subsidies for out-of-state students could pay off if those students wind up staying here after graduation. Mississippi, however, may not have the resources to see if that theory will actually prove true.

Tim Kalich

Editor and Publisher

Greenwood Commonwealth

Saggy-snagged

One fashion trend that has hung on too long is the penchant of some young males to wear pants that are several sizes too wide.

The sagging result is not pretty. Unless they hold their pants up with one hand, most of their underwear is on full display.

It’s offensive for any males to dress this way. It also can be a professional hazard for those who break the law.

Last week, the mayor of Pearl, Brad Rogers, helped apprehend a suspect, believed to be trying to commit credit card fraud at a bank, after a foot chase. Rogers, who was with the city’s police chief at the time, knew whom to look for by the following description: the fleeing suspect’s pants were down around his knees and he had on purple underwear.

Holding your pants up while trying to run is obviously not easy.

Tim Kalich

Editor and Publisher

Greenwood Commonwealth

 

The South leaps past Rust Belt

An insightful story from the Reuters news service makes the very valid point that the Rust Belt of the Midwest faces job competition from more than one place.

President Trump got elected on the strength of his ability to convince Rust Belt voters that he could bring back manufacturing jobs that have gone overseas. But the Reuters story, along with some revealing charts, makes it obvious that the Rust Belt also faces competition for these jobs from Southern states.

Using several measuring sticks, Reuters concludes that the South and the Rust Belt have traded places over the last few decades. The South clearly is trending upward; the Rust Belt is struggling.

The nine Southern states stretch from the Carolinas to Texas but exclude Florida. The nine Rust Belt states run from West Virginia to Minnesota, and include the key Trump victory states of Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic is each region’s share of gross domestic product. Southern GDP, as a percentage of the national economy, has increased from 19 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2015. Over the same period, the Rust Belt share of national GDP has fallen from 21 percent to 19.

Both regions have lost about 28 percent of their manufacturing jobs since 2000. But the South leads the country in the growth of all private jobs from 2000-2015 — up 12 percent. The country as a whole has increased its number of jobs by 8 percent over that period. But jobs in the Rust Belt have declined by 1 percent.

The statistic that applies most directly to people is income. In 1960, Southern per capita income was 74 percent of the national average. In 2015 it was 88 percent. In the Rust Belt, 1960 per capita income was 101 percent of the national average, but in 2015 it had fallen to 94 percent.

This evolution involves more than the automobile industry, and more than the idea that labor costs in Southern states are lower because workers are less receptive to unions.

Economists say that the South’s skilled workforce continues to grow as college graduates move to the region. Many are coming from places like the Rust Belt.

State taxes tend to be lower down South, and there is still plenty of low-cost land available for large industrial projects.

The Reuters story focuses on states like North Carolina and Alabama. North Carolina is doing a good job of attracting skilled, educated workers. Alabama has done well with automakers and its port at Mobile, where the goal is to triple the number of containers that move through each year.

All this leads to the obvious question: Why isn’t Mississippi sharing in more of the South’s good fortune? The big-picture answer is that we still have a ways to go to catch up with our neighbors on workforce skills. Our smaller and less-educated population also are factors.

Even so, Mississippi should be patient and persistent. We are in the right part of the country. It’s a matter of time before good things happen.

Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal

 

Freeze gets flack

from two sides

Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze is catching it from two sides these days.

The NCAA has alleged that the football program under Freeze’s guidance is guilty of cheating in recruiting star players, and Freeze’s critics contend he either knew about it or should have known.

The final verdict is yet to be rendered on how damaging the NCAA charges will be to  Ole Miss football and Freeze’s coaching career. The best case scenario — the punishment is no more   than what Ole Miss already has put on itself,  including a bowl ban this season — is bad but may be something Freeze can overcome. Most Ole Miss fans hope so.

Meanwhile, while the charismatic coach is being called a cheater by some of his critics, especially those who favor rival Southeastern Conference schools, another group claims he’s too religious.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has previously criticized the role of religion inside the Ole Miss football program, recently sent a letter to University Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter questioning what it called “overly religious social media postings of football coaches at the University of Mississippi.”

The group claimed it respects Freeze’s right to tweet his religious beliefs as a private citizen, but it violates the separation of church and state principle if he does it as a public university employee.

That begs the question, though, of what’s the difference. Just because Freeze works for Ole Miss, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a private citizen with First Amendment rights to free speech. If the university is paying for his tweeting device, maybe he should do it on a personal one which he certainly can afford.

It’s doubtful Freeze is any more likely to stop tweeting inspirational messages linked to Christian scripture than President Trump will stop his tweets about almost everything that comes to his mind.

Meanwhile, we suspect Vitter is far more concerned about the NCAA investigation than Freeze’s tweets, as he should be.

Charles Dunagin

Enterprise-Journal