College Graduates in Mississippi Face Challenges: Debt, Lack of Jobs
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This month nearly 10,500 students from Mississippi’s eight public universities will graduate. It’s one of the largest classes in state history. Mississippi’s sluggish economy may be a difficult place to find work.

Hundreds of friends and family members crowded into the stands of Veterans Memorial Coliseum over the weekend, to watch their loved ones receive a degree from Jackson State University. 27-year-old Shukundala Smith of Jackson received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Now, that’s she’s done with school Smith says probably moving out of state to look for a job.

"With my degree, it's not enough money," says Smith. "The income, the most you can make is probably $30,000 a year, but it's not enough money here at all."

Smith is probably not alone. According to State Economist Darrin Webb, Mississippi’s economy has been growing at a slow pace. He says students will have to be versatile if they hope to be employed in the state.

"One of the things that you can be sure of is that the technology changing rapidly, and I think that for any college graduate that means a need to be flexible and to have a diverse skill set," Web says.

Webb says over the past several years, Mississippi saw the largest growth in manufacturing jobs, a trend he believes is likely to continue. 

But that's not the only challenge facing students.

This year, nearly half of Mississippi’s college students will graduate with some form of student loan debt.

 22-year-old Stacie Hopkins a graduate from JSU says the idea of paying the student loans back is daunting.

"Just trying to figure out exactly how I'm going pay that and pay off car notes and house notes and all that stuff like that," Hopkins says. "I took out a lot."

According to Institute of College Access and Success, the average student in Mississippi will accumulate about $27,000 in student loan debt before they graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Whitney Barkley is an attorney with the Center for Responsible Lending. She says large student loan debts can have a negative impact on the economy.

"That is the money the graduate would otherwise be investing in the community," Barkley says. "That means they are going to be putting off buying cars. They are going to be putting purchasing homes. They might even put off starting a family and investing in all of the ways you invest in a community once you have a family. This is going to be something that we're really going to see trickling down through our communities and how much the younger generation is invested in our communities."

Mississippi is ranked 19th in the nation for amount of debt students take on. It’s also the second highest in the region, behind Alabama.