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South Must Build New Economy Through Education, Report Says

The Southern economy was once dominated by timber, textiles, and tobacco. That way of life may not have gone the way of "Gone with the Wind" just yet. But those industries clearly aren't what they used to be, a fact that has led many economists and elected officials to conclude that the region's prosperity will depend on it building a newly qualified workforce through education.

Now a new report examines the region's struggles to prepare its students for skilled jobs, and looks at where, specifically, students in different Southern states fall out of the high school-to-college pipeline.

That report, "The State of the South 2010," also seeks to identify educational priorities for the region, if it is going to compete for jobs domestically, and internationally.

The authors find that the percentage of young adults obtaining at least a two-year degree in many Southern states lags behind not only U.S. averages, but also behind those of many foreign nations. Of 13 Southern states identified, only one—Virginia—topped the U.S. average of 42 percent of U.S. young adults obtaining at least an associate's degree. Eight Southern states—Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Arkansas—lagged below the average of non U.S.-nations grouped within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, better known as the OECD.

The report is the second in a series, and was authored by MDC, a nonprofit organization based in Chapel Hill, N.C. that focuses on educational and economic issues.

One of its more intriguing conclusions is that the secondary-to-postsecondary pipeline springs leaks at very different points, depending on the Southern state where students live.

For instance, in Florida, 46 percent of students did not graduate from high school on time, the report states. In Arkansas and West Virginia, those numbers were 21 percent and 27 percent, respectively, yet in both of those states, the percentage of students who graduated from secondary school on time but did not enroll in college was higher than it was in Florida. Other, counterintuitive results can be seen across the region.

When it comes to getting students through the educational pipeline, the authors observe, "the extent and the 'location' of the leaks vary from state to state."

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