Nearly every week, my co-workers and I receive an email press release with infographic information that tells us how Arkansas ranks in one category or another through surveys, polls, or metrics gathering efforts.
Some of the categories are more extravagant than others. More than 334,000 Arkies are healthier after giving up long commutes to work from home. Half of us avoid posting about politics on social media because we fear being ostracized. One in three of us in the Land of the Clintons have gotten into a fight with our neighbors over parking. A whopping 1.6 million people in this particular part of the Louisiana Purchase are “grey area” drinkers: drinking in the gray area is defined as “a space between two extreme behaviors: drinking within the range between moderate consumption acceptable and a diagnosed alcohol use disorder. (Hmmm. In fact, many of these press releases refer to alcohol consumption surveys.) And, if the flag were redone, we’d want Hattie Caraway on our state flag.
One of the latest of these electronic releases bears the disheartening subject line “New Study: Arkansas Ranks 11th for Least Educated State in America.”
This discovery was made when “the scholarship website Scholaroo conducted an in-depth analysis of America’s Least and Least Educated States of 2022” (scholaroo.com/most-least-educated-states), the sender writes.
To determine where each of the 50 states ranks, Scholaroo analysts looked at levels of educational achievement and the quality of schools. “The data set contained 19 metrics ranging from the proportion of college graduates to the proportion of vocational school graduates to literacy and numeracy rates.” Arkansas ranked 40th, with 44.15 points.
It was also ranked 46th in educational achievement; 36 for the quality of the school. The state did better in the Best School System in America categories (No. 32) and considerably better in high school graduation rate (No. 16) and SAT scores (also No. 16).
So which state entered first? Massachusetts, with 84.45 points. Latest? Don’t mutter “Thank God for Mississippi.” It’s our immediate northwest neighbor: Oklahoma, with 36 points. But Mississippi came in at 46th. Louisiana, the home state of my late husband and father, came in at 48th, with 38.71 points.
In fact, it’s the usual chapter and verse for southern states when it comes to rankings in categories like education, social issues, and economic issues. We entered just before Alabama. Even the major southern states fit the stereotype, somewhat, by placing in the bottom half of the rankings: Texas at 37. Florida at 36. Georgia at 34. South Carolina at 39. “blood” (New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, along with the southern DC-area states and Missouri) were among the top 25 states.
We ran a story in this newspaper a few years ago about the relatively low number of college graduates the state was producing. One notable reason given: People here valued getting a job and earning some money to live on, more than getting an education.
Granted, college has become so expensive that no one can be blamed for weighing the cost of earning a particular degree against 1) the likelihood that they will find a job that they can put their studies to use…especially one with who can make those student loan payments; and 2) learn a trade, at a lower cost, that will earn them an even better salary than, say, a middle-aged newspaper editor. But the Scholaroo study indicates that our number of vocational school graduates isn’t that great, either.
The press release quotes the US Bureau of Labor Statistics: “A typical American worker with a bachelor’s degree earns on average $26,000 more per year than a worker with only a high school diploma.” But someone has to do the work that doesn’t pay well. In at least one near-perfect world, low-paying jobs would all be rungs, taken only by those guaranteed to be on their way to higher-paying careers.
But as we know, the cafeteria waitress, restaurant waitress, or motel housekeeper isn’t always on her way to an acting career (well, in Los Angeles or New York, anyway) or working part-time. partial while attending college. That job may be the best thing this person can do in terms of feeding himself and his family. If she walked out the door full of obstacles to move on to a better life, the rut she finds herself in may seem too deep to get out of, and “nickel” work could be “it” for her.
It’s depressing to think about, regardless of where this worker lives.
Of course, uneducated people making little money can be found anywhere, including the states that rank at the top of that poll list. That said, I am concerned about low wages and struggling schools wherever they are, not just in Arkansas.
That’s why I’m a huge fan of not just shows that give people a fish, but any show dedicated to teaching people how to fish…especially people who feel like they don’t have access to a rod. to fish; they need help even to reach one or they need encouragement to dream of holding such a pole, wherever their state ranks in an education survey.
All of us who get a good education/have degrees on our walls should be fans of the same thing. It doesn’t matter where our state ranks in an education survey.
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