JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Calling numerous social science and humanities degree programs “indoctrination factories,” Mississippi’s auditor says the state should defund several college majors and invest in subjects that match the state’s workforce needs.
In a report published Tuesday, Mississippi State Auditor Shad White, a Republican, argued that the state should change its approach to funding its public universities. He proposed tying public investment to workforce needs instead of providing funds without regard for the degree programs, as has traditionally been the case. Too many college graduates are leaving Mississippi, and aligning degree programs with labor market demand might stem the tide, White said.
In numerous statements on social media leading up to the report’s publication, White said there should be no taxpayer funding for “useless degrees” in “garbage fields” like Urban Studies, Anthropology, Sociology, German Literature, African American Studies, Gender Studies and Women’s Studies. Claiming some academic programs are hotbeds of political radicalization, White statements and his report arrive as education, from K-12 to the university level, remains at the center of America’s culture wars.
A Florida law enacted in May bars curricula that teach “identity politics” or theories about race, gender and sexuality disfavored by conservatives. A raft of legislation passed by Republican-controlled legislatures curtails diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public universities.
White leaned into the ideological fights roiling higher education in his social media commentary. But the report released by his office focuses on elevating some majors over others as a solution to Mississippi’s brain drain — a phenomenon that sees significant numbers of college graduates earning their degrees in the mostly rural state and then departing for bigger paychecks and expanded cultural opportunities.
One way to stop the outmigration is to have the state increase funding in degree programs with higher earning potential right after graduating, such as in engineering or business management, according to White’s report.
“Some high-paying degree programs were not likely to produce graduates who work in Mississippi, and this represents a missed opportunity for the state’s taxpayers,” the report said. “Producing more of these graduates and then retaining even a small number of them would inject millions of additional dollars into Mississippi’s economy.”
At the same time, the state should cut taxpayer funding for programs in the social sciences, humanities and arts that aren’t advantageous for the state’s economy, White said. He pointed to a 2023 Texas law that bases funding for community colleges on “measurable outcomes” like the number of degrees awarded in high-demand fields.
In an August 2022 analysis, Corey Miller and Sondra Collins, economists for Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning, said one likely factor at the root of the state’s brain drain is an increasing segregation by education nationwide. In the mid-to-late 20th century, a smaller percentage of the U.S. population went to college, and those who did were distributed more evenly throughout the country.
Today, more people earn degrees. College graduates are concentrated in the nation’s urban centers. Unlike many nearby states, Mississippi’s largest city, Jackson, has a shrinking population.
“This demographic shift has profound implications for the Mississippi economy given the college-educated share of the state’s population is one of the smallest in the country,” wrote Miller and Collins.
The share of Mississippi’s population ages 25 and above who held at least a bachelor’s degree in 2020 was 22.8 %, which ranked 49th among all states, ahead of only West Virginia. In one online comment, White pointed to financial trouble and budget cuts at West Virginia’s largest public university as a sign Mississippi should defund some degree programs.
On Sept. 15, West Virginia University’s board voted to drop 28 of its majors and cut 143 faculty positions as it grapples with a $45 million budget shortfall. Among the cuts are one-third of the education department faculty and the entire world language department.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice pointed to “some level of bloating in programs and things that maybe, just maybe, we ought not to be teaching at WVU.”
White does not have the authority to regulate education funding, but the state legislature often uses reports from the auditor to evaluate government spending and weigh potential budget cuts. The auditor studied political science and economics at the University of Mississippi and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.