States Eye Priorities

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Southern governors got a county-by-county view Monday of how well their public and higher educational systems were meeting the needs of their citizens in these tough economic times.

Houston Davis of Austin Peay State University in Tennessee and other researchers presented their Educational Needs Index at the 69th annual meeting of the Southern Governors' Association.

The 18-member SGA had requested such a study to pinpoint where states should devote resources left thin by tight budgets.

Davis and researcher Brian Noland say the index relies on the latest census data to rate the educational needs of the region's 1,538 counties.

For each county, the index weighs the health and nature of its economy as well as population trends, opportunities for growth and the education levels of its citizens.

The education factor includes the percentage of those who hold a bachelor's degree among adults age 25 or older.

About 31 percent of Maryland residents have reached that level, compared to the regional average of 22.4 percent. West Virginia fared the worst, with less than 15 percent of adults holding at least a bachelor's degree.

The researchers based their study on the economic theory that both individuals and society benefit when they invest in "human capital,'' as when they fund education efforts or workplace training.

More than half of Louisiana's counties ranked among the 300 with the most critical needs, while 45 percent of Mississippi's counties received the critical needs designation.