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Mississippi trails the nation in high school and college graduation rates, but a new study shows there are signs of improvement.The study conducted by a Washington-based group found the number of Mississippians age 25 and older with a high school diploma has increased more than 10 percent over the last decade. The number of those holding a bachelor's degree rose about 4 percent, the study showed.

The gains are tempered by the fact that Mississippi ranks ahead of only West Virginia in high school graduation rates. It is 47th in attaining four-year degrees.

``We are not at all surprised with these results,' said College Board spokeswoman Pamela Smith. ``Major efforts are being made with the universities to collaborate with K-12 schools on this issue.'

Mississippi's superintendent of education, Richard Thompson, said the state has been struggling to improve since instituting compulsory school attendance in 1982.

``We knew we were far, far behind,' Thompson said. ``But we've made tremendous progress.'

Thomas Mortenson, publisher of a monthly newsletter, Postsecondary Education Opportunity, said 78 percent of the state's population older 25 have a high school diploma, compared with 84 percent nationwide.

About 19 percent of Mississippi residents have a college degree. The national average is 25 percent, Mortenson's study said.

``Are we satisfied with that number? No we are not,' Thompson said. ``Are we going to improve it? Yes we are.'

States with the highest high school graduate percentages are Alaska, which leads the nation at 93 percent, Washington, Utah, Minnesota and Wyoming.

The District of Columbia has the most college graduates at 42 percent. Colorado, Maryland and Connecticut are also among the top states.

Smith said Mississippi's advancements are caused in part to programs which introduce students in the agrarian state to academia.

She said the culture, which has been centered on farming, is giving way to technology and college education, but progress is slow.

``When you don't come from a family where college is part of their experience, it's tougher,' Smith said.


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