Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:


March 23

The Greenwood Commonwealth on student debt forgiveness and for-profit schools:

Much of the attention about student debt during last year’s presidential campaigns revolved around competing Democratic plans to write off a large chunk of it, the cost of which could be as high as $1 trillion.

Even as Congress debates this issue, some debt forgiveness does not require new legislative action. Last week, the Biden administration announced that it plans to fully forgive about $1 billion in loans given to some 72,000 borrowers who were ripped off by for-profit schools.

The abuses of many of these for-profit schools are well-documented. With glitzy advertising campaigns often directed at less sophisticated students, the schools pump up their abilities to teach marketable skills that will supposedly land their graduates in high-paying jobs. Usually the training, most of it done online, is mediocre at best and the jobs don’t materialize, leaving the graduates of these schools with a large amount of debt that they can’t repay. According to a report from the Brookings Institution earlier this year, for-profit colleges account for 71% of student-loan defaults while enrolling just 10% of students.

Since some of these for-profit predators have gone out of business, students are left with no option to get their money back than to hope the government will write off part or all of the loans in cases where students can show they were defrauded.

The Biden administration has officially signaled it plans to be more lenient in this regard than the Trump administration, but it should also be tougher than the Trump administration in cracking down on these for-profit schools.

Following the Great Recession, for-profit colleges went through a decade-long decline in enrollment, but that has started to reverse itself, thanks to the Trump administration’s more lax attitude toward them. Among the regulations repealed by Trump’s Department of Education was the Obama era “gainful employment rule,” which stipulated that institutions could be disqualified from federal financial aid if a significant share of their graduates don’t earn enough to pay off the debt they accrue attending these schools.

Trump’s gentler approach to for-profit schools may be explained as much by his own circumspect background as his anti-regulatory inclinations. The former president was at one time the principal owner of such a rip-off educational institution, Trump University, that hooked the gullible on the belief that they could learn in a few courses how to get rich.

Reinstating the “gainful employment rule” and other related regulations are probably not enough, however. A better solution would be to cut for-profit schools off completely from federally backed student loans. That would put most of them — and for certain all the shady ones — out of business.

There are plenty of public and nonprofit institutions that can provide a better education at a lower cost to those who need to upgrade their skills to compete in the current job market. The Brookings Institution report says, for example, the average tuition at a public community college is more than $10,000 less than at a for-profit college.

In the meantime, students and their families need to take some responsibility for investigating the schools for which they are borrowing to attend. The students should not assume that if the degree or certification they get is worthless, they won’t have to pay back the money.

"Caveat emptor.” That Latin expression — translated as “Let the buyer beware” — stipulates that the buyer has a responsibility to check out the good or service he is buying before making the purchase. That’s good advice not just for houses and automobiles but for academic and job-training programs, too.



March 19

The Vicksburg Post on graduation rates in the district:

There should have been more fanfare. There should have been a celebration, a gathering, or even a parade to celebrate the news.

Instead, at a time when gatherings for the size of an event needed to properly celebrate the news is frowned upon, a press release is about as good as it can get.

Last week, the Vicksburg Warren School District announced the latest graduation rates that showed 86.9 percent of students positioned to graduate as part of the Class of 2020 did so. Not only is that a historic high for the District, it also surpasses the national average graduation rate for the first time.

That sounds like reason enough to celebrate. And, early data shows that number could reach even higher with the Class of 2021.

Since the 2009-2010 school year, the District’s graduation rate has increased 35.2 points. Over the same time period, the state’s average graduation rate increased only 13.6 percentage points. This accomplishment also exceeds the school board’s original strategic goal of increasing the graduation rate by 20 percentile points.

And the District’s success does not end at graduation. The District has long adopted the belief that every graduate — every student — should leave school with an “exit strategy.”

“By helping students connect with an exit strategy — enrolled, enlisted, entrepreneur, or employed with meaningful credentials, we are engaging them in relevant learning and building strong student/teacher relationships,” Superintendent Chad Shealy said.

With the strong leadership at the Vicksburg Warren School District and at our private schools, combined with the expert economic leadership, this report and other metrics show that Warren County is making the right investments at the right time.

“Economic development success for our community depends in part on the quality of our educational systems and the workforce they prepare. This achievement will certainly help us in selling our community to investors and in creating more and better jobs,” Vicksburg-Warren Economic Development Partnership CEO Pablo Diaz said.

The graduation rate is just one statistic that shows our community’s educational environment is changing — has changed — for the better and we could not be more thankful for those who have driven that change home.

There’s reason to celebrate and maybe, given the direction the fight against this ongoing pandemic has taken, getting together to mark this and other occasions is not too far down the road.



March 16

The Dispatch on the COVID-19 pandemic:

If you think of the COVID-19 pandemic in horse racing terms, it could be said we are coming out of the final turn.

Cases are down from where they were at the beginning of the year and the nation’s vaccination program is making steady progress. As of this week, roughly 30 percent of adults in the U.S. have been vaccinated. About 900,000 of Mississippi’s 2.1 million adults have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves announced the vaccine is now available to anyone over age 16.

While our state’s performance in terms of other precautions — mask wearing, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings — has been inconsistent, it appears the vaccination program, at this point, has been well-received and executed.

Mississippi may have broken poorly from the starting gate, but the vaccination program has allowed the state to position itself square in the middle of the pack as we round the turn and head for home.

But as horse-racing fans will tell you, the race is won or lost in the home stretch, so in many respects how we do in the ensuing months will determine just how successful we will be.

Unlike horse races, we are not competing against each other, but as a group against a common foe.

Winning will be determined by our nation’s ability to reach herd immunity, the point at which the virus is starved of the hosts required to sustain it. Epidemiologists say that to ensure the virus dies away, we need an immunity rate of 80 to 90 percent, either through vaccination or from prior infection.

As noted, 30 percent of U.S. adults have been vaccinated. Another 10 percent (29.5 million) have been infected.

That means we are well on our way toward that 80 percent magic number.

Of the two means of getting to that herd immunity, the best is, of course, by vaccination and a big part of that effort will be convincing people of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

According to Pew Research data, two of the most common reasons people offer for not getting the vaccine are concerns about side effects (90 percent) and concerns about its efficacy (80 percent).

Health experts, along with state and national leaders, celebrities and social media influencers, are trying to convince people those vaccine fears are unfounded.

But, as is often the case, the best marketing tool for the vaccine is word of mouth.

If you have had the vaccine, we encourage you to share your experience with those in your sphere of influence — friends, family members, co-workers.

What we have learned is that the side effects — the one reason given most often for not getting the vaccine — have been mild and short-lived.

That’s likely to be your experience, too, and sharing it may yet persuade the holdouts, which pushes us a stride closer toward the finish line.

As we have advocated since the beginning, we also urge everyone — even those who have been vaccinated — to continue to observe the established precautions, including mask wearing, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

Almost 7,000 Mississippians have died from COVID-19. That’s more than enough.

So, as the finish line at long last comes into view, let’s not falter, but instead redouble our efforts as we strain for the wire.