Mississippi State Auditor Calls for Overhaul of College Funding of 'Garbage Fields' to Address Brain Drain

The state auditor wants funds strategically reallocated from 'garbage' college programs such as women's and gender studies to critical fields like health care.
Mississippi State Auditor Calls for Overhaul of College Funding of 'Garbage Fields' to Address Brain Drain
The Mississippi State Capitol Building in Jackson, Miss., as seen on March 11, 2022. (Peter Forest/Getty Images for MoveOn & Emmett Till Legacy Foundation)
Caden Pearson

Mississippi State Auditor Shad White is advocating for a major shift in funding for degree programs at public universities. He is aiming to redirect resources away from what he calls "garbage fields" like women's and African American studies, which often lead to graduates leaving the state.

A recent report from the Mississippi State Auditor's Office highlighted this push for change. It emphasized the importance of aligning college majors with workforce needs to address Mississippi's "brain drain" issue. This problem arises when college graduates leave the state in search of better job opportunities.

The report revealed that taxpayers invest the same amount in educating both electrical engineering and anthropology majors. However, graduates in electrical engineering earn over $71,000 annually in their Mississippi jobs, while anthropology graduates earn less than a third of that amount and often leave the state without contributing to its economy.

"Some programs—like Women’s Studies, African-American/Black Studies, German Language and Literature—placed so few graduates in Mississippi jobs that analysts could not calculate a statistically significant median salary for those graduates. Yet the state invests just as much, per student, in these programs as in Electrical Engineering or Registered Nurse programs," the report stated (pdf).
The state auditor's report stated that by aligning educational programs with workforce demands and promoting fields with strong employment outcomes in Mississippi, “our state can maximize the billions of dollars Mississippi taxpayers spend on higher education.”

'Garbage Fields' Are Bad for the Economy

Mr. White has been vocal about his views, saying that "garbage fields" are detrimental to both students and the economy.
"Degrees in garbage fields are terrible for students,” he wrote on X on Sept. 15. “Kids graduate with debt they can't repay. It's the reason U.S. student debt has doubled in the last 20 years.”

He also contended that degrees in “garbage fields” are bad for the economy, producing graduates “who offer no real skills."

He went on to criticize universities for offering programs with questionable employment prospects.

"You know who loves degrees with cheap professors who specialize in sexual identity or urban stand-up comedy? Universities,” Mr. White wrote.

“They can run these programs for nothing. It’s way cheaper to send you through sociology than aerospace engineering,” he charged. “If you sign up for one of these useless majors, 'I call that getting tricked by a business,' to borrow a phrase.”

“But by all means, go take that Latinx Environmental Justice class in Urban Studies. Just don’t ask taxpayers to pay for it,” he added.

The report highlighted the need to focus on degree programs that yield strong employment outcomes within Mississippi, particularly in critical sectors like health care and business. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mississippi is facing a labor shortage in such sectors.

The State Auditor's Office suggests that public universities in Mississippi could provide better value to both taxpayers and graduates by aligning educational programs with the state's workforce needs. The report emphasized that retaining more graduates in Mississippi, especially those from high-earning degree programs, could significantly boost the state's economy.

“I’m not sure why a plumber who pays his taxes should have to finance a degree in gender studies in Mississippi,” said Mr. White. “Frankly, some of these programs seem like they exist just to warp the minds of young people.”

Ranking Degrees by Value

The report shows that graduates in the health care and education fields tend to stay in Mississippi and earn good money. For example, nearly 76 percent of registered nurse graduates found jobs in the state with a median income of $55,590—higher than the average household income.

Education graduates also earned more and graduated in larger numbers.

However, some well-paying programs, like engineering and business, struggle to keep graduates in Mississippi. Only about 36 percent and 42 percent of their grads respectively remained by 2020.

Producing and keeping more of these high-earning graduates in Mississippi could bring in millions of dollars, the report stated. If just over half of graduates stayed and worked in Mississippi, it could boost the state's economy by more than $75 million annually.

But not all programs do well. Some, like anthropology and sociology, have lower incomes and graduates who often leave Mississippi. For example, anthropology graduates earned nearly $17,000 less than their peers, and they were among the least likely to stay in the state. Sociology graduates faced a similar situation, earning nearly $12,000 less than their peers, with few from the 2015–2017 cohort choosing to remain in Mississippi.

“It’s part of my job as State Auditor to show you how your taxpayer money is spent and whether it’s being spent wisely. In this case, it is not,” said Mr. White.