Drive-through FAFSA completion featured in TIME magazine

On March 31, 2021, TIME Magazine published an article about how the pandemic has made the already difficult college application process even harder for the country's most vulnerable students. Author Katie Reilly interviewed several Get2College staff members who helped organize the drive-through FAFSA completion event held in Marks, Mississippi that is mentioned in the article. 

Read the article on or continue reading below. 


The first sign that Twyla Joseph’s college application process was not going to go as planned came on March 13, 2020, when, a day before her scheduled SAT, she learned the test had been canceled. The May and June tests were also canceled as coronavirus cases surged.

Joseph never got to take the admissions test. She barely knows her high school teachers now that she takes all her classes online at home in Islip Terrace, N.Y. She missed out on seasons of varsity cross-country and track, and lost contact with the coach who “used to give us really good life advice.” During the five months she was furloughed from her job at Panera Bread, she spent the money she’d been saving for college. And while she’s back at work now for about 28 hours per week, often dealing with customers who refuse to wear face masks, she is worried not only about whether she will be able to afford college in the fall but also about whether it even makes sense to enroll if she’ll be sitting at home taking classes online.

"I can’t go to college with $900 in my savings account,” says Joseph, 17, a senior at Central Islip High School. “I literally just thought, What if I took a year off, maybe a year or two, and tried to wait till things were back to normal? I definitely thought, Maybe I just shouldn’t go. Maybe it’s not worth it."

Millions of students across the country are wrestling with similar decisions. Estimates from U.S. Census Bureau surveys conducted biweekly since Aug. 19, 2020, indicate that anywhere from 7.7 million to 10 million adults canceled plans to take postsecondary classes last fall because of financial constraints related to the pandemic. The number of high school graduates who immediately went on to college in fall 2020 declined 6.8% compared with the previous year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The drop was more stark at high-poverty high schools, where the number of graduates enrolling in college fell 11.4%, compared with a drop of 2.9% at low-poverty high schools.

It’s the latest example of how the pandemic is hindering educational opportunities for the most vulnerable students, likely limiting their career options and earning potential. And as more people lose access to higher education, the country will feel the consequences of a less educated workforce. “Our economic recovery is at stake,” says Sara Goldrick-Rab, founding director of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia.

The drop is being felt most by community colleges, which educate more than a third of U.S. college students and which serve as an entry point to higher education for many first-generation and low-income students. (Applications are actually at record levels at many of the country’s most selective universities this year after they suspended SAT and ACT requirements.) In the fall 2020 semester, freshman enrollment across all colleges plummeted a record 13% from a year earlier, and at community colleges, the drop was 21%, with declines concentrated among Native American, Black and Hispanic students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The same troubling pattern is discernible in who is now applying for college. According to data from Common App, which is used by more than 900 colleges, total applications grew this academic year, but the number of first–generation applicants dropped.

“It’s a lost senior class,” says Sara Urquidez, executive director of the Academic Success Program, which provides college counseling to 15 public and charter high schools with large low-income populations in Dallas and Houston. For the students thwarted by the pandemic, she says, “it’s a cycle of poverty that will continue for another generation, because the Class of 2021 didn’t get the same opportunity that their wealthier counterparts are going to get to be able to go to college.”

The number of students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) also declined 9.1% by March 5 compared with this time last year, and fell more sharply at high schools serving large populations of low-income students and students of color, according to a tracker by the National College Attainment Network (NCAN). FAFSA completion is “the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” an indicator of whether students will enroll in college, says Kim Cook, executive director of NCAN. “We’re afraid they’re just taking themselves out of the game,” she says. “They have decided it’s just not possible.”

Across the U.S., campus tours have gone virtual. Counselors who once displayed seniors’ college acceptance letters in school hallways and who organized celebratory pep rallies have resorted to emails and slideshows to try to motivate students. Many high school seniors are isolated from friends, teachers and counselors and are taking on extra jobs or caregiving roles at home to help their families. In this lonesome environment, they’re expected to plan their post-graduation future.

At times, Joseph has felt as though she has to do everything on her own, with little help from the adults in her life. Her mother, who grew up in the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, didn’t attend school in the U.S. and can’t offer much guidance. It’s been tough to get one-on-one attention from school counselors who are outnumbered by hundreds of students, and she can’t stop by a teacher’s classroom to ask for a recommendation letter. “It’s like no one’s there to check in on us. We only have ourselves,” says Joseph. “And I get that older people are stressed out too, so it’s really hard to figure out what to do right now.”

For those from affluent families, the option may be a gap year to take an unpaid internship, explore a hobby or start a community-service project until things get back to normal. Outdoor-education programs like Outward Bound, which can cost thousands of dollars, saw a surge in demand over the past year.

But that’s a “romantic idea that really gets under my skin,” says Cook, who warns that low-income students who delay college might never enroll once they lose the resources they had access to in high school. “I don’t even want to call it a gap year because I don’t believe they’re coming back.” Studies show that students who delay college are less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than students who enroll in college directly after high school.

On top of school-related challenges, many high school seniors are feeling the weight of the country’s simultaneous crises and juggling multiple roles to keep their financially strapped families afloat. In Boston, 17-year-old Kimberly Landaverde’s family has worried about making rent since her parents lost work at the beginning of the pandemic. Landaverde, a senior at Boston Latin School, is communicating with their landlord because her mother and father don’t speak English, all while attending virtual classes, staying up late to submit college applications and then poring over her parents’ tax forms to apply for financial aid.

“I go from filling out my college applications to then checking in and filling out our rental-assistance applications,” Landaverde says. She cried out of relief when she got her first college acceptances.

For much of this school year, Milan Powell looked after her little sister and her cousins’ children during the day at home in New York City, sometimes tuning in late to her own online classes because of the time spent helping the younger children. “This is probably the worst year to be a senior,” says Powell, who attends the Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem and who finds it difficult to focus on school when her world is in such turmoil.

“If your grades have been impacted because you’ve been panicking every day about the fact that you’re in a pandemic, and not worrying about your schoolwork, well, your scholarship opportunities are kind of down the drain,” says the 17-year-old. “For a lot of people, myself included, if they don’t get that grant or scholarship, they just can’t go.”

Countless high school seniors have lost contact with their schools or given up on college, at least for now. In Miami, Othniel Rhoden was on track to be the first in his family to attend college this fall, but the 18-year-old senior at Booker T. Washington Senior High School grew discouraged after a year of not seeing friends or being able to pursue his passions for dance and video-game design, which he’d planned to study in college. He’s decided not to apply for the fall semester after all.

“This pandemic has really killed my ambition for school and other stuff I had a passion for,” says Rhoden, a participant in First Star, a nonprofit that helps students in foster care apply to college. “It’s like a part of me is missing.”

Rhoden also feels a responsibility to help support his family. He spends weekdays tuning in to virtual classes in the same room as his six younger siblings, then works weekends as a beach attendant at a Miami Beach hotel, making $9 an hour. “It was bills on top of bills, and my mother needed help with that, so I stepped in,” he says.

His mom and his First Star counselor have been encouraging him to apply to college in the fall, and he has promised to think about it. “Maybe going to college could open another doorway for me to help my family out,” says Rhoden.

Lyndsey C. Wilson, the CEO of First Star, says there was a drop in the program’s Class of 2020 students who went on to two-year or four-year colleges and an increase in those who instead took jobs or joined the military. “It’s incredibly worrisome,” she says. “If the numbers continue to play out the way that they are, we’re going to have a lot more young people working for jobs that aren’t providing a living wage.”

Students in low-income households were much more likely to cancel plans to take college classes than those in high-income households, according to the Census Bureau surveys, which is why experts worry that the students who are forgoing college are the ones who need higher education most. A growing number of jobs now require a post-secondary degree, and nearly all jobs created during the recovery from the Great Recession went to workers with at least some college education, according to a Georgetown University report. Americans with just a high school diploma face higher rates of unemployment and earn $7,300 to $26,100 less each year than those with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, based on median weekly earnings.

Urquidez, the college counselor in Texas, has struggled to reach students online and get them to tune in to virtual sessions on financial aid. In some cases, she doesn’t know where students are, and neither do their teachers. On average at her schools, 85% of students have applied to college so far—down from 95% to 98% in a typical year. Just over a third of seniors at one of her Dallas schools attended a recent in-person event to take yearbook photos, order their cap and gown, and discuss post-graduation plans with counselors. “Everybody’s talking about the enrollment drop for 2020,” Urquidez says. “I think that it’s going to slide further for 2021.”

Typically, during an economic downturn, college enrollment goes up as people who are unemployed return to school. Last spring, Goldrick-Rab expected community colleges wouldn’t be prepared to accommodate an influx, but it never came. That’s hurting colleges, which need students and the tuition they pay to keep classes going. Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said colleges are facing “a crisis of almost unimaginable magnitude” because of declining revenues and the new costs of operating during a pandemic.

It falls to people like Erica Clark to try to reverse that enrollment trend. Clark, a guidance counselor at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, is shepherding nearly 90 seniors through their college applications, largely at a distance, hosting virtual college visits and career talks every week, sending reminders about looming deadlines. She can’t pull students out of class or ask them to stop by her office anymore, so she tries to gauge how they’re feeling over Zoom, and she has lost countless nights of sleep worrying about them. She tracked down one student on the job at Foot Locker to get her to complete a missing form. “I know it sounds crazy,” Clark says, “but I just have to meet them where they are.”

“It becomes very overwhelming when you know that this student was destined for greatness, and now I can’t reach them,” she says. Perhaps because of the extra effort, more of Clark’s students have applied to college this year than last, but she’s now concerned about getting them to actually enroll. As graduation nears and they await scholarship decisions, more of them are having second thoughts about college and considering working full time instead or joining the military to cover tuition costs. “It’s like doors are being closed a little bit more to them,” she says. “I just don’t want them to give up the idea of going to college.”

Ellen Peyton, a college and career readiness teacher at Madison Shannon Palmer High School in Marks, Miss., shares Clark’s concerns. In October, she organized a drive-in event to help families submit applications for college financial aid. Students and their parents pulled up to a computer in the school parking lot and filled out the required forms from their cars, while counselors offered help from 6 ft. away. But by March, 34% of her students had completed the FAFSA, half as many as last year at this time, she says, and about 40% of seniors aren’t on track to graduate on time. She worries the pandemic will create a generation of students who don’t get the opportunities they deserve. “These are young adults, and they’re coming into their place in society,” Peyton says. “This is a big change in their life, and it has the ability to make or break their future.”

The State University of New York (SUNY), one of the country’s largest public higher-education systems, saw applications fall about 11% overall as of March 1 compared with last year, and even more among students of color. In response, SUNY eliminated application fees for low-income students, started offering free online job training and college prep to low-income New Yorkers, and launched an outreach program to get under-represented high school students to apply. “If you throw barriers in their way, they’re not going to come. And it’s going to hurt the university system, and it’s ultimately going to hurt society writ large. You’re just going to further the economic inequality all across the country,” says SUNY chancellor Jim Malatras. “And that’s a moral failure on our part.”

At Compton College, a community college in Compton, Calif., serving mostly Black and Latino students, enrollment fell 27.5% in fall 2020 compared with the previous year. “I expected a decline in enrollment,” says college president Keith Curry. “But I didn’t expect this.” The school is working on outreach to students who had been enrolled at Compton in spring 2020 but withdrew during the pandemic, offering them more financial aid, and improving partnerships with K-12 districts to connect with prospective students.

Congress directed nearly $40 billion to colleges and universities, which must spend half the money on emergency financial aid for students, as part of the $1.9 trillion relief package passed March 10. Higher-education advocates had asked for $97 billion, and many argue that improving college accessibility and affordability is critical if today’s high school seniors are to become the country’s future leaders. President Joe Biden has also proposed making community college tuition-free to boost college access for more students and rebuild the economy. “We’re supposed to be the future,” Rhoden says of his generation. “And I’m not sure how the future will be for us.”

These days, when she isn’t working or taking classes, Twyla Joseph is watching YouTube videos with her mother or binge-watching Criminal Minds while waiting to hear back from the colleges she applied to. She’s looking forward to the day she can once again go to concerts with friends and volunteer with the immigrant-rights group Make the Road New York.

The pandemic has forced her to rethink her plans and expectations for the future. Because she never was able to take the SAT, she applied only to schools that did not require it. She once considered applying to historically Black colleges and universities in other parts of the country, but to save money and stay closer to her family, she’s now set her sights on the City University of New York or SUNY colleges. It will depend on how much financial aid she receives. She’s also reconsidering her original career goal of becoming an occupational therapist; it would require grad school, and the additional expense and years of schooling are not something Joseph wants to commit to when the future is so uncertain. Instead, she’s planning to study social work or psychology.

One thing that hasn’t changed is her excitement about what college could bring: psychology classes, dorm life, more independence. “I actually want to go to college and learn and meet new people and have different experiences and just make memories,” Joseph says, “if I can do that in a pandemic.”

Posted by Lisa Potts at Monday, April 5, 2021

Featured in Washington Post: Drive-through FAFSA's by Get2College

The Washington Post featured the Woodward Hines Education Foundation's Get2College program in October of 2020, showcasing their creative new approach to helping students and families complete the FAFSA. 

Around this time last year, Aliaha Austin was gearing up for FAFSA night at East Bladen High School in Elizabethtown, N.C. But this year, instead of going over the federal financial aid application with parents in a classroom, she was preparing to do the same in a parking lot, complete with WiFi and masks.

“We are adapting,” said Austin, a counselor with College Advising Corps., which deploys recent college graduates into high schools to guide students. “Students without reliable Internet at home may have trouble completing the form, which is a big motivation for doing a drive-in."

Getting students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA, will be no small feat this year. The pandemic has emptied school hallways where counselors can remind seniors to apply and has rendered unsafe face-to-face fairs advisers host to guide parents through the process.

The federal government, states and colleges use the FAFSA to determine need-based and some merit-based aid. Students, especially those from low-income households, miss out on billions of dollars in federal grants, work-study, subsidized student loans and state scholarships every year by failing to complete the form.

The stakes are high this year. Anemic tax revenue threatens state-sponsored scholarships just as many families find themselves grappling with job losses and furloughs. Applying early for financial aid gives students a better shot at first-come-first-serve state grants. It also means a jump-start on a process that will require a few more steps for families devastated by the recession to access the most aid.

As colleges brace for financial aid appeals, there’s a new tool to help students file them

Against that backdrop, college access groups and high school counselors are finding creative ways to reach students and their families. Some are holding FAFSA nights in parking lots with WiFi to let parents remain in their cars while advisers walk them through the application from a distance. Others are hosting virtual sessions through Zoom or beefing up websites with video tutorials and infographics for students.

“People are very concerned about so many other things right now, especially those from underserved communities,” said Shannon Grimsley, outreach program director at Get2College, a division of the nonprofit Woodward Hines Education Foundation in Mississippi. “We want them to know we’re here to get them over the finish line.”

While technology is essential for college advising this year, it can also be a formidable barrier. Poor broadband access in some of the rural parts of Mississippi has made virtual FAFSA workshops tricky as students get kicked off or screens freeze up, Grimsley said. Get2College has posted tutorials on YouTube that students can access from their smartphones and mailed fliers to students encouraging them to call with questions, but the team wanted to do more.

Grimsley said her colleague TJ Walker suggested they replicate the drive-through format health-care workers were using for coronavirus testing. Getting a generator, WiFi hotspots, mobile printers, tents and personal protective equipment will run about $1,000, Grimsley estimates. And her team is still working out the logistics of keeping a distance while looking over applications, but they have a few weeks before the event to figure it out.

Even with the technical hiccups, Grimsley said there are advantages to virtual counseling. In a normal year, her team fans out throughout the state, driving for hours to host hour-long FAFSA events. At least this year, they can hold more workshops and one-on-one appointments in an efficient way.

Austin, of College Advising Corps., has had more success getting families to participate in virtual workshops than the ones she hosted in-person last year. Whereas one or two parents showed up for the face-to-face fair last year, about 20 joined her via Zoom this fall. Turnout was not as strong for the first drive-through fair last week, but others will be held every Thursday and Friday for the rest of the month.

“I’ve had more parents call or text me this year than before,” Austin said. “I don’t know if it is because they are working from home or feel the need to be more involved because students aren’t in school.”

College advisers are working to reverse the flagging FAFSA completion of the previous cycle. About 101,500 fewer high school seniors filed aid applications for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to a National College Attainment Network analysis of FAFSA data through September. The arrival of the pandemic in the spring sidelined advisers as schools pivoted online, raised doubts about the value of remote higher learning and leveled household incomes.

The latest crisis: Low-income students are dropping out of college this fall in alarming numbers

Completion rates had begun slipping in the past two years as a robust economy lured high school graduates into the workforce, said Bill DeBaun, director of data at the National College Attainment Network. He suspects families at the margins also found the high cost of college too prohibitive.

There was an uptick in filings after the Education Department in 2016 let students submit the form in October, instead of January, and provide tax returns from two years earlier. The department has streamlined the financial aid form and Congress has made it easier for the agency and the Internal Revenue Service to share taxpayer data so students can speed through the application.

Still, DeBaun said the form remains daunting for students and families without the “college knowledge” to navigate the process.

Trust is often a hurdle in getting families to complete the FAFSA, said Laura Malmstrom, a counselor at Sarah Pyle Academy, a public school in Wilmington, Del. Some are leery of government agencies, worried that supplying their financial information will jeopardize their jobs, housing or access to social services.

“One-on-one help makes a big difference, walking parents through the process step by step,” Malmstrom said. “It boils down to the relationship we have been building with students and their parents. Parents are much more likely to trust that their information will be safe because they know us.”

Every senior at Sarah Pyle traditionally meets with a counselor to discuss their post-graduation plans, whether that means heading to college, enlisting in the military or entering the workforce. Malmstrom is keeping up the tradition through Zoom and has teamed with other high school counselors to create a college application portal with tutorials as a supplement.

Technology anchors the mission at Sarah Pyle, where teens and young adults who struggled in traditional high schools get another chance to work at their own pace using digital platforms. Still, the remote school year posed challenges. The public school had to distribute portable hotspot devices this fall, aware that many of its 130 students have unreliable Internet access.

The health and economic crisis are exposing inequities and weighing heavy on students and their families. College advisers worry some will be discouraged from pursuing higher education or dissuaded by financial aid packages that are not reflective of a job loss this year. The FAFSA relies on tax data from two years ago.

Financial aid officers can reconsider aid packages when unforeseen events or expenses not captured on the FAFSA affect a family’s ability to pay for college. Professional judgment reviews can decrease students’ expected family contributions or increase their estimated cost of attendance, making them eligible for more grants and loans. But students from low-income households may not see much if any difference in their packages if they are already receiving the maximum award amount for federal grants and loans.

“We’re telling students that the more they stay in touch, the more we can help them navigate any challenges that come up,” said Jennifer Adams, college success director at CollegeTracks, a nonprofit that works with students from low-income families in Montgomery County, Md. “Having a college degree has become no less important in the last seven months."

Posted by Lisa Potts at Thursday, March 11, 2021

WHEF featured in prestigious Foundation Review

Last September, staff members from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation had their work and research featured in The Foundation Review, the first peer-reviewed journal of philanthropy. The publication is written by and for foundation staff and boards, and those who work with them implementing programs. It provides rigorous research and writing, presented in an accessible style.

You can read the September 2020 issue here.

Executive summaries of WHEF's featured articles are below. 

Scaling Rural Access: One Foundation’s Partnership to Expand FAFSA Completion Across Mississippi  (Page 7)
B. Tait Kellogg, Ph.D., Higher Ed Insight; Ann Hendrick, M.S., and Kierstan Dufour, M.S., Woodward Hines Education Foundation; and Patricia Steele, Ph.D., Higher Ed Insight

In rural states, under-resourced groups are sometimes left behind when quantitative scaling strategies involve a more cost-effective focus on areas with a concentrated population. This article discusses Get2College, a model by the Woodward Hines Education Foundation to provide financial aid counseling to Mississippi high school students, and a study that assessed efforts to increase the number of students who complete the FAFSA. Get2College’s approach to scaling involved a partnership with the state’s rurally based community colleges and leveraged their established support networks to expand its outreach to the state’s often underserved students and raise FAFSA completion rates among that population. As foundations seek to support nonprofits with scaling their initiatives, a key question to consider when choosing an approach should always be: Who might be excluded?

Emergent Learning: Increasing the Impact of Foundation-Driven Strategies to Support College Enrollment and Completion  (Page 60)
Kimberly Hanauer, M.A., UnlockED; Stacy Sneed, B.A., Woodward Hines Education Foundation; and Bill DeBaun, M.P.P., National College Attainment Network

While the workforce requires a greater level of education to earn a family-sustaining wage, Americans in the lowest income quartile have achieved only incremental increases in postsecondary completion. This article examines lessons learned as part of the continued development of the Get2College Pilot School Program, an initiative of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation designed to test a strategy for increasing college enrollment among Mississippi students through greater college exploration opportunities and application and financial aid supports. Four major lessons include: Begin with a commitment to engagement between school districts and school administrators; create a “college team” at each school to embed support for enrollment and completion; build a strong theory of change and evaluation method; and customize support strategies to regional contexts and individual schools.

Posted by Lisa Potts at Thursday, March 11, 2021

Elevate: WHEF's 2019 - 2020 Impact Report

The collective vision of Jack Woodward and Herman Hines to provide more Mississippians with access to an education beyond high school has never been more relevant or more important.

The theme of our 2019-2020 Impact Report—Elevate—is at the center of our work. Through grantmaking, we seek to amplify the work of other organizations who are seeking to create impact around the issues we care about. Through college access programming, we seek to increase and improve the opportunities available to individual Mississippians—regardless of race—by providing them with the information and resources necessary to connect them to higher education and family-sustaining employment. Through advocacy and relationship building, we seek to lift up the voices of those we know have the greatest need in order to inform and influence decision-makers about the importance of aligning Mississippi’s policies and practices with the current and future workforce needs of the state.

As we move forward from a global pandemic, we believe—more than ever—that increasing access to postsecondary degree and certificate attainment is at the heart of elevating the lives of individuals, communities, and the State of Mississippi.

Jim McHale, President and CEO


Read the report here

Posted by Lisa Potts at Wednesday, March 10, 2021

WHEF Awards $100,000 to Millsaps College

In celebration of WHEF’s 25th Anniversary, a $100,000 challenge grant was given by WHEF to Millsaps College. The funds, given to honor the legacy of Jack Woodward and Herman Hines, will be used to establish an endowed scholarship fund to provide financial aid for Mississippi community college students wishing to transfer to Millsaps.

"In the same way that our founders created opportunities for Mississippi students, WHEF is honored to continue that legacy through the establishment of a scholarship for transfer students at Millsaps College," said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. "Our goal is to help more Mississippi students earn a degree or credential that will enhance their quality of life and move them closer to their dreams and we believe this scholarship will do that."

While Millsaps has a number of endowed scholarship funds, there are none currently set aside specifically for students transferring from Mississippi community colleges. Scholarships made possible by this grant will also build on an agreement signed in 2017 between Millsaps and each of the state’s 15 community and junior colleges that enhances opportunities for transferring students.

“Today’s students enter college expecting more than a college degree,” said Dr. Robert W. Pearigen, president of Millsaps. “They want a sense of assurance that they can obtain good job and graduate with a minimal amount of debt, if any. This generous support from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation will play a critical role in providing that assurance for many Mississippi students.”

The grant to Millsaps also strengthens historic ties by honoring the legacies of Jack Woodward and Herman Hines, who were instrumental in creating the nonprofit Mississippi Higher Education Assistance Corporation and later the nonprofit Education Services Foundation, which is now known as the Woodward Hines Education Foundation.

Woodward graduated from Millsaps in 1951, and returned to the college in 1961 as director of religious life. One year later, he added the title of director of financial aid, a role he filled at the college for the next 37 years until his retirement in 1999. Known to many as “the granddaddy of financial aid,” Woodward dedicated himself to helping students finance their college education.

A long-time Jackson businessman and CEO of Deposit Guaranty National Bank, Hines was a member of the Millsaps Board of Trustees from 1974 until his death in 2010. He was named a life trustee in 2001. Once quoted as saying, “Millsaps College is one of the abiding loves of my life,” Hines shared his love through countless gifts of time, talent and resources.

Watch a video of WHEF's 25th Anniversary and Millsaps Scholarship announcement here:

Posted by Courtney Lange at Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Get2College Counselors Finding Creative Ways to Reach Students

The federal government, states and colleges use the FAFSA to determine need-based and some merit-based aid. Students, especially those from low-income households, miss out on billions of dollars in federal grants, work-study, subsidized student loans and state scholarships every year by failing to complete the form.

The stakes are high this year. Anemic tax revenue threatens state-sponsored scholarships just as many families find themselves grappling with job losses and furloughs. Applying early for financial aid gives students a better shot at first-come-first-serve state grants. It also means a jump-start on a process that will require a few more steps for families devastated by the recession to access the most aid.

Against that backdrop, college access groups and high school counselors are finding creative ways to reach students and their families. Some are holding FAFSA nights in parking lots with WiFi to let parents remain in their cars while advisers walk them through the application from a distance. Others are hosting virtual sessions through Zoom or beefing up websites with video tutorials and infographics for students.

“People are very concerned about so many other things right now, especially those from underserved communities,” said Shannon Grimsley, outreach program director at Get2College, a division of the nonprofit Woodward Hines Education Foundation in Mississippi. “We want them to know we’re here to get them over the finish line.”

While technology is essential for college advising this year, it can also be a formidable barrier. Poor broadband access in some of the rural parts of Mississippi has made virtual FAFSA workshops tricky as students get kicked off or screens freeze up, Grimsley said. Get2College has posted tutorials on YouTube that students can access from their smartphones and mailed fliers to students encouraging them to call with questions, but the team wanted to do more.


Posted by Courtney Lange at Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Engaging Youth as Advocates

When it comes to improving access to higher education, youth voices matter; but too often young people are not consulted on the issues that impact them most. How can youth organizations and the young people they serve work together as advocates for policy reform?

This question was at the heart of a recent grant competition offered by the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) to its member organizations. Among those to receive support was the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF).

“The grant has allowed us to engage more deeply in state and federal policy advocacy, while looking for ways to empower student voices in Mississippi,” says WHEF Assistant Director and Project Manager Kierstan Dufour.

A key component of the grant was engaging a youth Fellow to advance WHEF and NCAN’s goal of closing equity gaps in higher education. That honor went to Vonkerius (Von) Jackson, a junior at University of Mississippi. A political science major, Von had experience leading campaigns at his high school in Indianola in the Mississippi Delta. He was also well-aware of the barriers that students with limited financial means need to overcome in accessing higher education in Mississippi, which costs an average of $22,000 annually at a public four-year institution.

In March, Von and two WHEF staff traveled to Washington, DC to attend an NCAN advocacy training and learn about its policy priorities. High on the list was streamlining and simplifying the process students go through in applying for federal student aid through FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and increasing support for Federal Pell Grants, made available for students with financial need.

The NCAN training taught the WHEF team how to tailor their message to get through to busy decision-makers. They then made their case to Mississippi legislators on Capitol Hill. For his part, Von shared his journey as a successful student from an underserved community, who had benefited directly from state and federal aid, such as the Pell Grant program.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” says Von, who developed a special rapport with staff at Congressman Bennie Thompson’s office, representing his home district. “It felt like more of a conversation than a meeting,” he says. “We talked about how to get people excited to participate in policy reform.”

When the trio returned home, the COVID pandemic prohibited face-to-face meetings so Von continued his outreach virtually, with support from the WHEF team. He met with diverse stakeholders, including lobbyists, government affairs spokespeople, the Director of the Mississippi Office of Student Financial Aid, and staff at Institutions for Higher Learning. He took care to research in advance the role and agenda of those he was meeting with. “We wanted him to understand how to change your messaging depending on who you’re talking to,” says Dufour. At the same time, there’s nothing like sharing an authentic story based on personal experience, she adds.

With the NCAN grant now nearing completion, WHEF is exploring what a broader youth engagement strategy might look like. As for Von, he’s writing a series of blog posts on his financial aid journey and could see returning to Capitol Hill in a professional capacity someday to “work for a representative I could be proud of,” he says. 

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Helping Community Colleges Plan for an Uncertain Future

Community colleges in Mississippi find themselves in unchartered territory as they plan and budget for the 2020-2021 academic year—and beyond. Everything from state budget cuts to uncertain student enrollment to health safety needs in the COVID-19 era pose serious obstacles to short- and long-term decision-making.

Within a fast-changing environment, how might technology help college administrators anticipate the unexpected? A $9,800 grant from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) to the Mississippi Community College Foundation (MCCF) aims to find out. The grant will be used to pair three two-year colleges—Coahoma, Itawamba, and Jones College—with BKD, a national accounting and advisory firm. Using financial modeling software co-developed with PFM, BKD will help each institution explore future scenarios that could impact their revenue, expenses, educational programming, and infrastructure needs. The WHEF funds will cover half the costs of the scenario planning, with the colleges contributing the remainder.

MCCF Executive Director Dr. Ronnie Nettles knows all too well the challenges that higher education leaders face in a time of crisis. During the 2008 financial collapse, Nettles, then President of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, navigated five state budget cuts in just one year. The pandemic and related economic tailspin present today’s leaders with an even more complex set of circumstances to overcome.

“Everything’s completely fluid now,” says Nettles, who hopes that results from the grant will merit expanding the model.

For its part, WHEF seeks to strengthen the ability of community colleges to respond to student needs at a time of sweeping change. “You have people who wouldn’t have access to higher education if it wasn’t for community colleges,” says WHEF Program Officer Shanell Watson. “You have to make them as strong as they can be so they can serve students who are most vulnerable.”

Later this month, participating colleges will provide BKD with baseline data from their audited financial statements over the last three years. Each will then explore possible scenarios. While the colleges plan to return to in-person classes this fall, what are the implications should they need to transition to a hybrid model, with some students living on campus and others taking courses online? What if fewer students require meals and housing? And how should colleges proceed when it comes to planned infrastructure projects, like the construction of dorms?

And there are other variables to consider as community colleges face state budget cuts and grapple with how to allocate funding made available through the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. The federal funds must be expended by December 30, 2020. 

“Typically, forecasting is done by plugging numbers into a spreadsheet,” Watson explains. “The BKD software allows users to pivot back and forth between ideas and assumptions and scenarios in real-time.”

“I think it’s really exciting for the colleges,” says Deborah Gilbert, MCCF Policy Director. The typical spreadsheet model is cumbersome and can lead to errors, she adds, whereas the BKD software allows decision-makers to see the impact of a course of action instantaneously. The tool also creates charts and graphs to facilitate analysis. “It’ll be a good tool for colleges to use in going to their board to say why they made a particular decision,” says Gilbert.

While there is plenty of cause for concern in the current environment, Nettles points out that enrollment in community colleges typically goes up during a recession as students look to reduce education costs overall. Time will tell if the schools attract more students. Until then, three local colleges hope to be better prepared—with the help of technology—no matter what the outcome.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Wednesday, August 26, 2020

WHEF Awards IMPACT Grants

Students attending six Mississippi public universities will benefit from a five-year, multi-million dollar commitment from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) to support college retention, persistence, and completion through the Improving Mississippi’s Persistence and Completion Together (IMPACT) initiative.

WHEF is an endowed Mississippi non-profit organization that has focused its efforts on promoting increased postsecondary access among underrepresented students for nearly 25 years, and more recently, expanded its mission to also support increased credential completion within the state.

“The need to support students and to improve the rates of college completion among Mississippians has always existed. But, in light of COVID, the need has never been greater and more pressing,” said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. “According to Georgetown University, it is estimated that 65% of all jobs require some kind of postsecondary education. Currently, Mississippi sits at 45.2%. In order to improve the lives of Mississippians, to support Mississippi’s economic recovery, and to competitively position our state within a global economy, there is a critical need to not only have more students enroll in college, but to have them successfully complete their degree or credential.”

A competitive request for proposals opened in November 2019, with grantees being notified in May 2020.  The following schools have been awarded IMPACT grants:

Delta State University                                    $400,000

Mississippi State University                        

Mississippi University of Women              

Mississippi Valley State University           

University of Mississippi         

University of Southern Mississippi           

In addition to $1.95 million in grant awards, WHEF will underwrite biennial IMPACT convenings for all Mississippi public baccalaureate institutions, with the goal of creating a state-specific, facilitated community of practice for the exchange of findings, insights, and ideas. In addition, WHEF plans to provide coordinated access to high-quality professional development opportunities for institutional faculty and staff, innovations in data collection and usage, as well as platforms for peer learning.

“In addition to providing financial resources to individual schools, we hope to create a learning community where generative conversations about college success can happen,” said WHEF Program Officer and IMPACT Project Lead Shanell Watson. “Although each Mississippi institution has its own unique challenges and opportunities, they are also working to solve the same problems. Our goal with the IMPACT initiative is to provide a place where our universities can share with and learn from one another, for the betterment of all our students.”


Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, July 14, 2020

How One Student Achieved Success and Now Supports Others

TJ McIntosh was scanning his Twitter feed when he found out he had been awarded a coveted Jack Kent Cooke (JKC) Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Official notification arrived by email minutes later. “My mom and I hugged for about 20 minutes,” he says. “I wasn’t even going to apply,” he adds. “My mom kept encouraging me.”

A recent graduate of Itawamba Community College (ICC), TJ will head to Mississippi College in the fall. The JKC scholarship, which provides generous financial support toward a four-year degree, will go a long way in helping TJ pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.

“He’s one of our best and brightest,” says ICC President Dr. Jay Allen, citing TJ’s academic achievements and active engagement in campus life. “He’s poured a lot into the college.”

Among his contributions, TJ tutored students in the Minority Achievement Network for Upward Progression (MAN UP) program. Launched by ICC in 2019 with support from the Woodward Hines Educational Foundation, MAN UP seeks to equip minority males with the skills to overcome barriers in life and achieve academic success. The program’s comprehensive approach includes academic tutoring, mentoring, life skills workshops, and career development.

TJ speaks fondly of his advisor, Dr. Emily Tucker, who wrote her dissertation on minority males in two-year colleges, and co-founded MAN UP, along with Dr. Bobby Solomon. “I’m so glad she had the vision to start a program like this,” says TJ. “Minority males don’t always have the leg up in the real world or the academic world. I’m glad she gave us our own space to encourage each other in our choices.”

For his part, TJ tutored students for seven to eight hours a week in English, science, math, and “anything else they needed help with.” He also participated in recruitment lunch sessions and informal events inviting minority male speakers to reflect on their careers and how they overcame obstacles. 

TJ attributes his motivation to ‘give back’ to the many people who supported his own journey, including his parents, teachers, advisors, and even doctors, who invited TJ to shadow them. He also credits his membership in the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, with its emphasis on leadership development and service to the community.

“My parents always pushed me to pursue anything I put my mind to,” he says, adding that other minority students aren’t so fortunate and can experience low self-esteem. TJ’s advice for addressing the achievement gap among minority male students is straightforward. “You need to remain committed to them, to let them know you’re there for them.”

At ICC, he found a community and culture that strives to do just that. “I can’t say enough about my ICC family,” he says. “Everyone has been in my corner. I can’t go into a building without someone pushing me on to what I want to do.”

TJ’s excited to begin Mississippi College in the fall and to eventually attend medical school. Ultimately, he hopes to open a primary care clinic in the rural community of Wren in northeast Mississippi where he grew up.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Mississippi Community College Foundation Receives $310,000 Grant from Woodward Hines Education Foundation

The grant will provide emergency relief to Mississippi community college students impacted by COVID-19 

The Mississippi Community College Foundation has received a grant of $310,000 from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) to help qualifying Mississippi community college students impacted by COVID-19 stay on track towards graduation.  

“These are difficult times for students who are trying to adjust to the many personal and educational challenges brought on by COVID-19,” said Dr. Ronnie Nettles, Executive Director of the Mississippi Community College Foundation. “We are delighted to partner with the Woodward Hines Education Foundation to help these students.”

“We know that many of Mississippi’s community college students are already vulnerable to unexpected financial hurdles,” said Jim McHale, WHEF President and CEO. “We viewed this as an emergent opportunity to provide immediate financial support to Mississippi’s two-year college students impacted by COVID-19, so they would not be forced to put their education on hold for financial reasons.”

The grant will establish student relief funds at all 15 Mississippi community colleges. Money can be used to help students with the costs associated with in-home internet access, fuel cards, credential fee stipends, to establish campus tablet or computer loan programs, or other costs that may be a barrier to college completion. 

Itawamba Community College President (ICC) Dr. Jay Allen said he plans to use the money to ease the transition to online instruction for his students.

“While we know this transition has caused hardships on a number of our outstanding students, we are appreciative to the Woodward Hinds Education Foundation for believing in our mission and the communities we continue to serve,” said ICC President Dr. Jay Allen. “These funds will assist our students move their educational efforts forward.”

Mississippi Delta Community College (MDCC) President Dr. Tyrone Jackson explained that COVID-19 is an additional barrier to college completion. 

“COVID-19 has created additional challenges for many of our students,” said Mississippi Delta Community College President Dr. Tyrone Jackson. “It is critical that we find ways to provide our students with the support and resources they need to stay on course during this particularly challenging time.”

This is not the first time WHEF has provided financial support to Mississippi’s community colleges. WHEF has awarded $490,000 to Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society to provide membership scholarships to high-achieving but underserved community college students. WHEF has also provided support to Coahoma Community College and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College through a $900,000 grant to Achieving the Dream, to support the development of a peer learning community and build leadership and data capacity among each institution. 

“I am grateful to the Woodward Hines Education Foundation for their continued commitment to education and specifically to Mississippi’s community colleges,” said Dr. Andrea Mayfield, Executive Director of the Mississippi Community College Board. “COVID-19 has impacted the lives of our students and their families in so many ways. This grant will help ease the stress so students can continue to focus on their education.”

**Mississippi community college students, who are interested in finding out more about this grant, should contact their community college campus directly. A list of contacts can be found here

About Woodward Hines Education Foundation

The Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) is committed to helping more Mississippians obtain post-secondary credentials, college certifications, and degrees that lead to meaningful employment. Since its inception, WHEF has worked to increase college access and entry for young people in Mississippi and has expanded that work to support promising practices that lead to college persistence and completion. For more information, contact Communications and Impact Director Courtney Lange at  

About the Mississippi Community College Foundation

Founded in 1986, the Mississippi Community College Foundation (MCCF) is committed to the advancement of the individual and collective missions of the fifteen Mississippi community and junior colleges and the Mississippi Community College Board.  It strives to enhance the educational opportunities for the citizens of the State of Mississippi.  To accomplish these goals, the MCCF seeks financial support to improve the colleges and better serve their students. For more information about the MCCF, visit To learn more about the Mississippi Community College Board, visit

Posted by Courtney Lange at Thursday, April 16, 2020

New FAFSA Completion Report Highlights Work of WHEF's Get2College Program

A new report released by Education Strategy Group (ESG) and Level UP, features the work of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation's (WHEF) Get2College program. Get2College offers college access services to students throughout the state of Mississippi, including free ACT prep, educator training and professional development, and hands-on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion support for students and families. Mississippi has one of the highest FAFSA completion rates in the nation, with 65% of high school seniors having completed the form (page 3 of the report).

Fast Track FAFSA Completion includes key findings on the importance of FAFSA completion, as well as a set of recommendations for states and local communities as they work to increase FAFSA completion.

Key findings include:

  • Increasing FAFSA completion is a fundamental step in state efforts to meet their postsecondary attainment goals.
  • Students who complete the FAFSA are more likely to enroll in higher education, persist in college coursework, and ultimately obtain a degree or credential.

Despite these findings, over 1/3 of the nation's high school seniors fail to complete the form each year, leaving an estimated $3.4 billion in financial aid on the table. And the students who stand to benefit the most, including low-income and first-generation students, are the least likely to complete the form.

Read the full report and recommendations here.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Monday, February 17, 2020

WHEF Hosts First Capitol Day

The Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) hosted our first Legislative Day at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson on Wednesday, January 29. WHEF staff and board members were present to discuss our mission and priorities, the work we are doing in the area of college access, as well as our grant making efforts. The purpose of the event was to introduce state leaders to the work of the foundation and to lift up the issues surrounding college access and success that impact the State of Mississippi.

We were joined by representatives from our grantee partner organizations including: Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Coahoma Community College, Itawamba Community College, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the Northwest Mississippi Community Foundation, and the Mississippi Delta After-school Collaborative (MiDAC). These organizations were able to showcase the impact of their work on the lives of Mississippi students and families.
Posted by Courtney Lange at Thursday, January 30, 2020

New Fund Established to Increase College Access in Delta Counties

The Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi has received a grant of $50,000 from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) to fund activities that increase college awareness and create pathways to postsecondary education among high school students in the following 18 Mississippi Delta counties: Bolivar, Carroll, Coahoma, Desoto, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Leflore, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Warren, Washington, and Yazoo.

“Our top priority is education, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve educational opportunities for children in our region from birth through college or other career preparation,” says Tom Pittman, President of the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. “We deeply respect the work of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation in this regard. It is an honor to provide links to non-profit organizations that make a difference in the trajectories of our young people’s lives.”

The money will be distributed as a part of the Get2College Mini-Grant Program to schools and eligible community-based organizations with a current 501c(3) status. Grants are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and will range in amount from $250 to $1250. Organizations can receive a single grant in a calendar year.

Examples of eligible activities include (but are not limited to): college fairs, college campus tours, technology to support online workshops for students, college application days, and college signing events.

“The need to increase access to college information is critical for all Mississippi students and adults, but particularly those who live in rural or low-income communities,” says WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. “Ultimately, we hope that this grant will create more pathways and awareness for students to pursue a postsecondary credential or degree that will improve their quality of life, their communities, and Mississippi.”

For more information or to apply, call 662.449.5002 or visit Download the application here.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Friday, January 10, 2020

WHEF Announces $2.6 million IMPACT Initiative

Students attending Mississippi public universities will benefit from a five-year, multi-million dollar commitment from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) to support college retention, persistence, and completion through the Improving Mississippi’s Persistence and Completion Together (IMPACT) initiative.
WHEF is an endowed Mississippi non-profit organization that has focused its efforts on promoting increased postsecondary access among underrepresented students for nearly 25 years, and more recently, expanded its mission to also support increased credential completion within the state.  

“According to Georgetown University, it is estimated that 65% of all jobs require some kind of postsecondary education. Currently, Mississippi sits at 40.9%,” said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. “In order to improve the lives of Mississippians and to competitively position our state within a global economy, there is a critical need to not only have more students enroll in college, but to have them successfully complete their degree or credential.” 

A competitive request for proposals process will open in November 2019, with grantee awards announced in spring of 2020.  Eligible institutions will use data-informed approaches to identify, implement, and scale innovative solutions aimed at strengthening the retention, persistence and completion of student populations that pose greater risks for non-completion. 

In addition to $2.6 million in available grant funding, WHEF will underwrite biennial IMPACT convenings for all Mississippi public baccalaureate institutions, with the goal of creating a state-specific, facilitated community of practice for the exchange of findings, insights, and ideas; in addition, WHEF plans to provide coordinated access to high-quality professional development opportunities for institutional faculty and staff, innovations in data collection and usage, as well as platforms for peer learning, according to WHEF Program Officer and IMPACT Project Lead Shanell Watson. 
“In addition to providing financial resources to individual schools, we hope to create a learning community where generative conversations about college success can happen,” Watson said. “Although each Mississippi institution has its own unique challenges and opportunities, they are also working to solve the same problems. Our goal with the IMPACT initiative is to provide a place where our universities can share with and learn from one another, for the betterment of all our students.” 

For more information about WHEF or the IMPACT grant initiatives, contact WHEF Director of Communications and IMPACT Courtney Lange

Posted by Courtney Lange at Thursday, November 14, 2019

MS Sees Increase in Percent of High School Seniors Applying for Financial Aid

Last year, more Mississippi high school seniors applied for college financial aid, according to data from Federal Student Aid, an office of the US Department of Education. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the primary application through which students gain access to federal, state and institutional financial aid to attend college. As of August 23, 2019, Mississippi ranked 3rd nationally, with more than 74% of high school seniors having completed the form, compared to the national average of 62%.

Of the Mississippi high school seniors who have completed the FAFSA this year, 66% of them may be Pell Grant eligible. The Pell Grant is awarded to students who have high financial need.

“In order to access critical financial aid, all students who plan to enroll in a postsecondary program need to complete the FAFSA, but it is particularly important for low-income students, who may not otherwise have access to money to pay for college,” said Get2College Program Director Ann Hendrick. “We also look for our Mississippi FAFSA numbers to increase due to the new College and Career Readiness (CCR) course which is required for graduation for the high school class of 2022.  While FAFSA completion is not a requirement of the course, the course includes a unit to increase awareness about student financial aid and FAFSA completion. “

Completion of the FAFSA is a good predictor of a student accessing postsecondary education. Get2College, a program of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation, has discovered, through their new research from the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) at Mississippi State University, students who completed a FAFSA had over four times (4X) greater odds of enrolling in college than those who did not complete a FAFSA. Completing the FAFSA by March 31, or earlier enables students to potentially qualify for funding from federal student aid, Mississippi student aid, institutional dollars, and some private scholarships. 

“I am proud of the statewide team effort to increase FAFSA completion rates in Mississippi,” said Institutions of Higher Learning Director of Student Financial Aid Jennifer Rogers.  “This work is so important, because FAFSA completion gives students access to not only federal financial aid but game-changing state financial aid as well.  The state HELP Grant, which requires students to complete the FAFSA, awards full tuition to qualifying students, an amount that can make the difference between a student earning a college degree and stopping out.”

Get2College offers one-on-one, hands-on FAFSA completion assistance in their offices in Jackson, Southaven, and Ocean Springs and throughout the state in high schools. Virtual FAFSA completion assistance is also available to students and families who need FAFSA support remotely. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit

Posted by Courtney Lange at Monday, November 11, 2019

Grant aims to increase College Attainment in Mississippi

Students across Mississippi will benefit from almost $28 million in funding to support college access and success thanks to the Gaining Early Awareness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant. GEAR UP is funded through the US Department of Education and aims to increase the number of low-income students who are getting to and through college.

The seven-year grant was awarded to Mississippi State University and will be supported in partnership with the Get2College program of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF). Other grant partners include the Mississippi Department of Education, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, and ACT.

“The GEAR UP grant will bring one of the largest and most effective federal programs focused on improving college and career readiness of low-income students to Mississippi,” said Brandi Lyndall, director of GEAR UP MS for Get2College. “Through community-based strategies and statewide approaches, we will increase the number of low-income students who are prepared for college and will be successful there.”

GEAR UP will provide targeted college access services and other benefits to students in the Greenville, McComb, and Meridian public school districts, beginning in middle school with the goals of increasing: readiness for college; high school graduation rates; access to information on postsecondary schools, career options, and financial aid; and college enrollment.

“According to Georgetown University, it is estimated that by 2020, 65% of all jobs will require some kind of postsecondary education. Currently, Mississippi sits at 40.9%,” said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. “In recent years, Mississippi has made progress in increasing the educational attainment rate of our citizens, and I am confident that this grant will allow us to continue to build on that momentum.”

In addition to targeted work in partner school districts, GEAR UP will provide additional support to students and educators throughout Mississippi. WHEF’s Get2College program will provide statewide ACT prep for teachers, financial aid application support for students and families, and professional development for school counselors. Each year, Get2College provides FAFSA completion support and other direct college-planning services to students and families, and professional development to high school counselors and school leaders, explained Get2College Program Director Ann Hendrick.

“Everything we do is research-based and known to increase the college-going rate of the students we serve, including FAFSA completion, which is a strong predictor of a student’s likelihood to enroll in college,” Hendrick said. “Get2College supports FAFSA completion directly and through partnerships throughout the state and currently ranks third in the nation for highest percentage of FAFSA completion by high school seniors. We are excited to continue our work and to reach even more Mississippians as a part of GEAR UP Mississippi.”


Project partners will also develop a virtual reality app, allowing students to explore each of Mississippi’s public universities and eight key industries. Additionally, students will be given 24/7 access to an online chat feature that will provide answers to common state and federal financial aid questions.


Posted by Courtney Lange at Thursday, September 12, 2019

Get2College Corps member awarded prestigious scholarship

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College student and Get2College Corps member Meghan Nguyen has been awarded the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship for high-achieving community college students. Meghan, of Ocean Springs, will receive $40,000 per year to attend a four-year college or university.

Scholarship recipients are chosen based on strong records of achievement in the areas of grades, leadership skills, and service to others. Meghan is one of only 61 students in the nation to receive the award. After completing her bachelor’s degree, Cooke Scholars are also eligible to apply for a scholarship for graduate school worth up to $50,000 a year for up to four years.

While a student at MGCCC, Meghan served as a Get2CollegeCorps member. A program of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation, the Get2College Corps is a competitive paid internship for high-achieving community college students. As a part of the program, Corps members are trained to help Mississippi students and their families complete the FAFSA. 

“I am so excited for this opportunity and can’t wait to see where it leads,” Meghan said. “I could not have done this without the help, generosity and support of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation. WHEF and especially the Get2College program will always have a special place in my heart.”

Meghan is an active member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and has also received scholarships from Pearson Higher Education, Coca-Cola and the Tennessee Valley Authority. She plans to transfer to Mississippi State University where she will major in chemical engineering and minor in mathematics and business administration.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the Foundation has awarded $190 million in scholarships to nearly 2,500 students, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The Foundation has also provided more than $100 million in grants to organizations that serve students.


Posted by Courtney Lange at Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Greenville's Hidden Voices

Get2College, a program of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF), is participating in a grant in partnership with Mississippi State University. The Greenville Voices grant is funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service. The project seeks to engage residents and other local stakeholders in learning about and researching college access services available in the Greenville community that support a college-going culture.

The project is led by MSU Assistant Professor Dr. Carol Cutler White, who serves as the principal investigator and lead researcher. Dr. White works with a small group of local high school and college students and parents, who serve as co-researchers on the project, using a research method known as PhotoVoice.

PhotoVoice uses photography to give a voice to the lived reality of students, who are trying to get information about going to college. The photos, submitted by students, will be shared through various local outlets, giving community members an opportunity to give their own input on where college information is available. The goal of the project is to identity available college access points in the community and possibly apply for further funding through AmeriCorps, Retired Senior Volunteer Corps (RSVP), and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) grant programs to support staff in those access points.

“Increasing access to college and educational attainment in Mississippi is certainly an issue that we are passionate about,” said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. “This is particularly important in the Mississippi Delta.”

The percentage of Mississippian’s, who have completed a degree or credential beyond high school sits at 41%, McHale explained. The national average is almost 48%. Currently, fewer than 27% of people in Washington County have an education beyond high school.

“At Woodward Hines, we define college as any kind of degreeor credential beyond high school. That includes a two- or four-year degree, but also a welding or advanced manufacturing certificate,” McHale explained. “We know that an education that leads to meaningful employment is the best way to improve the lives of Mississippians and to move Mississippi forward. Our hopeis that this project will be a catalyst in doing that.”


Posted by Courtney Lange at Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Get2College Program Shows Promising Early Results

The National College Access Network (NCAN) talks about the early results of Get2College Pilot School Program. The goal of the program is to create a college-going culture in eight Mississippi high schools by offering college planning services including FAFSA completion, ACT prep courses, college planning timeline appointments to students and families. Read more here.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Friday, March 15, 2019

Talent, Meet Opportunity


The title of our annual impact report, “Talent, Meet Opportunity,” was inspired by my travels throughout this great state and by meeting so many bright and capable high school students and adults who want more but don’t feel they have the potential or opportunity to pursue a postsecondary degree or credential that will ultimately lead to a better life. Whether it is in the Delta, along the Gulf Coast, or in the Golden Triangle, I am constantly reminded—that, while talent is equally distributed in Mississippi, opportunity is not.

Jim McHale, President and CEO


Read the report here.







Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Get2College Corps Members find Program Meaningful

Get2College, a program of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation, is proud to partner with Phi Theta Kappa to assist students and their families with navigating the complex financial aid process by supporting their FAFSA completion efforts through the Get2College Corps.

The Get2College Corps is a competitive, paid internship for high-achieving community college students who are members of Phi Theta Kappa. There are currently 17 students from 12 Mississippi community colleges who participate.

As a part of the program, Corps members are trained to help Mississippi students and their families complete the FAFSA. They work in community colleges across the state and in the three Get2College Center locations in Jackson, Southaven and Ocean Springs, helping with one-on-one FAFSA completion. The goal of the program is to increase FAFSA completion statewide by the March 31 priority deadline for the HELP grant, the only need-based grant available for Mississippi students.

“I am glad to have had the opportunity to assist so many students as they plan for their next steps,” says Pearl River Community College student and Corps member Michael Evans. “When I tell a mother that money is available and that college is a viable option for her child, her face lights up—and I feel like I am a part of something worthwhile.”

Corps member and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College student Nader Pahlevann describes his experience as a Get2College Corps member as being “meaningful.”

“Being a part of the Get2College Corps has given me an opportunity to work on my leadership and communication skills, while also helping students complete the FAFSA and state aid applications, to that they have access to as much money to pay for college as possible,” he says. “I am also very grateful for the generous scholarship, which will help me as I continue my education beyond community college. I will always value what I have learned as a part of the program.”

During the fall 2018 semester, Corps members worked a total of 1328 hours and took 773 appointment to support FAFSA completion.


Posted by Courtney Lange at Friday, March 1, 2019

Inside Philanthropy: What a Foundation is Doing to Boost College Access and Completion

The work of WHEF was recently featured in Inside Philanthropy for our grant making work with Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and Achieving the Dream. Both projects work to increase college access and success in Mississippi. Read more here.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Thursday, February 14, 2019

Woodward Hines awards $440,000 grant to Phi Theta Kappa

On January 16, 2019, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and Woodward Hines Education Foundation announced a $440,000 grant to benefit high-achieving two-year college students in Mississippi with financial need. Phi Theta Kappa provides academic, social, and financial support to an otherwise vulnerable population of students, and its members complete college at a higher rate than non-members. This scholarship will enable thousands of Mississippi students with financial need to join Phi Theta Kappa and gain access to the life-changing opportunities and benefits offered through the organization.

Read this story by the Daily Journal of the crucial role community colleges and Phi Theta Kappa play in the lives of two Mississippians. With the Golden Opportunities grant, WHEF is proud to support students like Jenna and Mallorie who learn and work in Mississippi.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Get2College Pilot School Evaluation

In order to increase the number of students going to, persisting and completing college, the Get2College Pilot School Program is designed to use nationally identified best practices and benchmarks from the National College Access Network (NCAN). Researchers at the Mississippi State University Social Science Research Center are working to evaluate the program. Read more here.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Monday, January 7, 2019

The Higher Ed Completion Crisis in three minutes

Half of all students who enter post-secondary education earn a degree and students who don't complete are more likely to default on loans. These short informative videos are a quick way to learn more about the higher education landscape. They also offer possible solutions to the higher ed completion crisis in this country.

Click here to watch...

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, January 1, 2019

WHEF Celebrates Christmas

WHEF staff members shared a special Christmas luncheon with Mrs. Nelda Woodward, wife of WHEF co-founder Jack Woodward. In addition to a few hours of fellowship, Mrs. Woodward shared some special words about Jack's legacy, that lives on in the work of the Foundation.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, December 25, 2018

WHEF Welcomes JPS Superintendent Dr. Errick Greene

Earlier this month, WHEF welcomed new Jackson Public School District Superintendent Dr. Errick Greene to Mississippi. Dr. Greene took the helm of the JPS system on October 1. JPS is the second largest district in Mississippi, serving 24,000 students in 54 schools.

During the meeting, we shared an overview of the mission, vision, and strategic areas of focus for WHEF. We provided Dr. Greene with a more in-depth look at the work of Get2College, with a specific focus on our center services, professional development opportunities for educators, Pilot School program, and work in the area of FAFSA completion. We also discussed the history of our Get2College work within the JPS system.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Thursday, December 20, 2018

Foundations Addressing Barriers to Education in Northeast Mississippi

“You all can set the bar and be role model for state of Mississippi,” Woodward Hines President and CEO Jim McHale said to a crowd of nearly 300 leaders and community members of Northeast Mississippi. ”Be somebody who changes the odds for all of Mississippians.”

The CREATE Foundation Commission gathered leaders and members from 17 counties for the 22nd annual State of the Region meeting in May of 2018. Featured speakers included Woodward Hines's Jim McHale and Sheldon Day, Mayor of Thomasville, Alabama.

The Commission of Northeast Mississippi has been CREATE’s major program component since 1995 to build cooperation and unity through regional community development. It is comprised of 54 volunteer leaders from 17 counties. Much like WHEF, the Commission studies data, identifies key issues, and works with numerous partners throughout the region to address issues and achieve goals and objectives.

"College education is a game changer. It ends generational poverty. It changes the future of families and it can change the face of a community and a state.  Talent development leads to economic development and economic opportunity."

While Mayor Day's speech focused on his rural city's economic accomplishments in the South, McHale's message focused on student barriers to education-- an education that would fuel a blossoming economy like Mississippi. While telling the story of three current and former students of various backgrounds, he shared how the foundation's mission of access, persistence and completion and connection to meaningful employment are critical in creating new possibilities for students across the state.  The clip below is an excerpt from the full speech.




During his speech, McHale also emphasized the need to establish a strong, state or region-wide attainment goal. By creating and facilitating markers for student success, communities will not only be college-ready, but they will be equipped to contribute to the productivity of the state.


"By 2020, 65% of all jobs will require a postsecondary credential or degree. If every high school senior in Mississippi today attended college, our state would still not meet that 2020 goal."


Data Source: Georgetown Public Policy Institute, Center on Education and the Workforce.


As CREATE Foundation President Mike Clayborne commented on both speakers, he shared, “McHale’s organization is knocking down barriers to higher education that primarily affect children from financially challenged families. That is important because of our need to build a high quality workforce in a challenging environment.”


Woodward Hines is actively seeking partners, building education affinity groups, and funding strategic programs that will ultimately change the odds for students and families who continually beat them.


Read more about the CREATE Foundation and Commission.


Read a full recap from Tupelo's Daily Journal.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Friday, June 15, 2018

State of the South 2018

The following content was published and distributed by MDC, a nonprofit based in Durham, North Carolina, with its mission to help communities, organizations, and leaders close the gaps that separate people from opportunity. To read the full report, visit or download the Executive Summary.


State of the South: Recovering Our Courage

To fuel their economies, Southern states now rely heavily on imported talent. In every state in the region, born-out-of-state newcomers exceed born-in-state residents in holding bachelor’s and post-graduate degrees.

In the 2018 State of the South report issued in its 50th anniversary year, MDC points out states’ dependence on imported, well-educated workers over building their own talent-development systems. While in-migrants reflect vitality, especially in metropolitan regions, says the MDC report, the South’s commitment to strengthening public schools, community colleges, and universities has eroded in the aftermath of the Great Recession.


State of the South ThumbnailThe report, entitled “State of the South: Recovering our Courage,” was released at a presentation and panel discussion on Tuesday, April 10, at MDC’s headquarters. It found, for example, that in Virginia, with the highest percentage of residents with a B.A. or advanced degree in the region, nearly 50 percent of those are in-migrants compared to less than 25 percent who were born there.


The ratio is a reflection of a region that has fallen back after the removal of numerous barriers to opportunity for African American and low-income residents in the 1960s and ’70s led to improvements in education, income, and health. The result is communities with some of the lowest upward economic mobility rates in the nation because young people are not being adequately prepared for jobs filled by newcomers.

“We have substituted a culture of withdrawal for a culture of investment”


The report goes on to say “Today, we see the re-segregation of schools and the persistence of racial disparities in housing and employment, some enabled by state and federal legislation, some perpetuated by structural inequities that laws didn’t remove or relieve. The social and economic consequences of these inequities affect generations of families, particularly communities of color, and families across the region are less financially secure. The anemic economic recovery from the Great Recession is not conferring benefits to those in middle- and lower-income brackets, leaving low- and middle-income families more vulnerable to rising housing and education costs and increasing uncertainty in everything from retirement benefits to weather patterns…


Importing Talent Banner


Few Southern cities are achieving growth, prosperity, and inclusive economic outcomes that improve conditions across the socioeconomic spectrum; regional growth and prosperity, matched with limited inclusion of historically disadvantaged populations, will likely exacerbate social fissures produced by shifting demographics and increased income inequality,” the report finds, citing data on education, income, employment, demographics, population growth, health, and incarceration, as well as in-migration.


Fastest Growing Talent Banner


Much of the data is offered with comparisons to the region in the 1960s as MDC marks its 50th anniversary building the workforces of North Carolina and the South. The report looks back at how far the South has come in erasing discriminatory practices, improving its education systems, and raising income levels—and how far it has to go.


The report also looks at the South through three lenses critical to social and economic progress: Belonging (enabling full participation and inclusion in civic and economic institutions by all Southerners); Thriving (creating a more economically dynamic region by removing structural barriers and building support systems that generate wealth and spread its benefits); and Contributing (laying the foundation for current and future wellbeing through deliberate investment and conscious engagement of once-marginalized voices who can define their priorities).


About MDC


MDC for more than 50 years has brought together foundations, nonprofits, and leaders from government, business and the grassroots to illuminate data that highlight deeply rooted Southern challenges and help them find systemic, community solutions. Our approach uses research, consensus-building, and programs that connect education, employment, and economic security to help communities foster prosperity by creating an “infrastructure of opportunity”—the aligned systems and supports that can boost everyone, particularly those who’ve been left behind, to higher rungs on the economic ladder. MDC’s landmark State of the South reports since 1996 have shaped the economic agenda of the region, shining a spotlight on historic trends, deep-rooted inequities, and solutions that offer rural and urban communities a path forward. Read our past reports at Learn more about MDC at

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Springboard to Children's College Savings Accounts

Springboard to Opportunities is partnering with Hope Enterprise Corporation Hope Credit Union, and Woodward Hines to host the 3rd Annual Run for Our Community 5K on Saturday, April 22, 2017. The race is set to kick off at 9:00 am at Dawson Elementary School with registration beginning at 8:00 am. The money raised by the event will serve as seed money to create children's college saving's account for youth in the Springboard communities.

WHEF supports Springboard and the creation of children’s savings accounts.  Research shows that children who have a savings account for college are more likely to go to college than children without savings.  It’s not about the amount of money in the account but simply having the account can dramatically increase the student’s expectations for college. Whether the funding source is the family or the community, the student knows that someone is investing in them.

About Springboard to Opportunities

Springboard To Opportunities connects families living in affordable housing with resources and programs that help them advance themselves in school, work and life. We do this by working directly with families, as well as by establishing strategic partnerships with other organizations that help residents achieve their goals.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Monday, April 9, 2018

WHEF Leadership Remembers Founder Jack Woodward

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Woodward Hines Education Foundation founder Jack Woodward on February 23, 2018. Read on for Mr. Woodward’s legacy, his obituary, and remembrances from our leadership.

“Mr. Woodward’s shared vision with Herman Hines drove the creation of the Mississippi Higher Education Assistance Corporation, which gave many students access to the funds they needed to attend college. He had spent his career leading financial aid for Millsaps College, and his care for young people extended beyond the campus to all Mississippi students. During my tenure at the foundation, Mr. Woodward remained an active member of our board and a dedicated supporter of the work we do. We and thousands of past, current and future college students will be forever grateful for the hard work he did to make college accessible to so many across Mississippi.  We have truly lost a giant.”

- Jim McHale, President and CEO of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation


“I worked for Mr. Woodward when I was a student at Millsaps, then later returned and worked in financial aid with him for 18 years.  He was my work mentor and became a dear friend. My office was next to his, and I learned everything about caring for people by listening to how he treated others. He was always kind to them, no matter what, and he did everything in his power to make sure that the neediest students could attend college. It is a privilege to work at an organization that bears his name and will continue to serve students in Mississippi for many years to come. ”

- Ann Hendrick, Director of the Get2College Program


“For me, Jack Woodward will forever hold a special place. His financial aid counseling enabled me to attend Millsaps College and become the first college graduate in my family. Later I had the opportunity as a lawyer to work with Jack and Herman Hines to help them achieve their vision of creating Mississippi Higher Education Assistance Corporation and Education Services Foundation to meet the needs of students and their families. After serving as general counsel and working with Mr. Woodward until my retirement, I had the opportunity to join the boards of MHEAC and ESF. As a board member, I was so pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the decision to change the name of ESF to Woodward Hines Education Foundation to honor the contributions of Mr. Woodward and Mr. Hines. The Foundation’s signature program, Get2College, embodies Mr. Woodward’s life work of helping young people, particularly those with the greatest need, attain a higher education.”

- David Martin, Board Chair of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation

Posted by Courtney Lange at Monday, February 26, 2018

WHEF Get2College Program Receives MAPE Governor's Award

Eight Mississippi public high schools and the Woodward Hines Education Foundation's (WHEF) flagship program, Get2College, have been selected for a 2018 Governor’s Award for Outstanding School-Community Partnership by the Mississippi Association of Partners in Education (MAPE). MAPE will hosted a luncheon on Feb. 27 at the Hilton of Jackson.

“Research shows that that community-school partnerships help break down barriers that hold students back from enrolling in and graduating from college,” says Ann Hendrick, director of the Get2College program. “The pilot program works because counselors, administrators, and teachers are all providing an environment that encourages students to go to college.”

The Get2College pilot school program started in the fall of 2015 based on research by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The program implements best practices for creating a college culture, including ACT preparation, college search, and the admissions application process. Its long-term goal is to increase the rates of college enrollment and graduation for its students.

The results of the pilot school program are promising: 66% of 2016 seniors enrolled in college within first year of graduating from high school, as compared to national figure of 62% for students having graduated from low income schools. The schools and districts below have been awarded for their participation in the program.

  • Bruce High School (Calhoun County SD)
  • Lake Cormorant High School (DeSoto County SD)
  • St. Martin High School (Jackson County SD)
  • Moss Point Career and Technical Center (Moss Point SD)
  • Pelahatchie Attendance Center (RCSD)
  • Taylorsville High School (Smith County SD)
  • O’Bannon High School (Western Line SD)
  • Riverside High School (Western Line SD)


“This partnership has been transformational for our students,” says Valerie Hennington of Smith County. “It has raised their aspirations for themselves and given them the tools to be successful in college.

Throughout this ongoing, multi-year partnership, Get2College staff brings the services it offers in its centers directly to the school sites, supporting students, families, counselors, teachers, and administrators. The curriculum consists of a three-pronged approach of workshops, special events (including visits to college campuses and college application days), and individual counseling on college planning and FAFSA completion.

View the gallery from the Mississippi Association of Partners in Education Governor’s Awards luncheon on their Facebook page and learn more at

Posted by Courtney Lange at Friday, February 23, 2018

WHEF Funds Transformative Student Success for Two Mississippi Community Colleges

Mississippi’s Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) and Achieving the Dream (ATD), a national nonprofit focused on increasing community college student success, have announced a new partnership that will enable two Mississippi community colleges to join the Achieving the Dream.

Specifically, WHEF has awarded a four-year grant of $900,000 to ATD to enable two Mississippi colleges to join its premier national reform network to advance student success. As part of the ATD Network, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) and Coahoma Community College (CCC) will receive on-site visits from coaches, information about successful, high-impact practices used by peer colleges, and access to resources, all of which will help the colleges increase the number of their students who complete certificates and degrees.

At a time when state funding to Mississippi’s 15 community colleges serving 75,000 students is being reduced, it is hard for colleges to make the reforms necessary to boost retention and completion. New philanthropic support for the two Mississippi colleges arrives at a critical moment.

“We know that without a postsecondary degree, nearly half of the poorest children in Mississippi will remain in poverty. The good news is that this figure decreases dramatically—to 10 percent—with a postsecondary education,” said Jim McHale, president and CEO, Woodward Hines Education Foundation. “Our board recognizes that a college degree is a game-changer.  They want to invest in institutions like Achieving the Dream that support community colleges and enable them to better serve all students.”

Community colleges are key institutions for leveling the playing field for low-income students, students of color, and first generation students who are hoping to earn degrees and credentials that support their economic and social mobility, and that in turn, support the economic and civic health of the communities in which they live," said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “Achieving the Dream is excited about our new partnership with the Woodward Hines Education Foundation and welcomes Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Coahoma Community College into our network."

ATD will also offer MGCCC, CCC and the other colleges in its 2018 cohort access to a capacity-building framework and companion self-assessment that allows them to pinpoint strengths and areas for improvement across seven institutional capacities in areas such as leadership and vision, teaching and learning, and data and technology.  With the capacity framework as a guide, ATD helps colleges integrate and align any existing student success efforts with bold, holistic, institution-wide changes that research suggests can help more students succeed.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Friday, February 16, 2018

The Kresge Foundation Awards Get2College and WHEF

In June of 2016, the Kresge Foundation issued a $1.6 million national challenge grant to strengthen urban higher education ecosystems by raising FAFSA completion rates among high school seniors in cities across the country. Jackson was one of only 22 cities in the country to receive the grant, which challenged those cities to increase FAFSA completion rates by at least five percent for the graduating high school class of 2017. Get2College received $55,000 of the total grant and exceeded its goal, reaching a seven percent increase in FAFSA completion among seniors in the district.

Upon completion of the FAFSA Challenge Grant in June 2017, the Woodward Hines Education Foundation’s (WHEF) Get2College program has received a $25,000 award from the Kresge Foundation for partnering with higher education institutions to increase completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the Jackson Public Schools. Kresge presented the awards in September at the 2017 National College Access Network (NCAN) conference in San Diego, CA. Other award recipients were based in Greensboro, NC; Charleston, WV; Cheyenne, WY; Columbus, OH; Los Angeles, CA; Phoenix, AZ; and San Juan, PR.

In order to achieve these results, Get2College partnered with postsecondary institutions and organizations to train and deploy a network of volunteers that helped students and families with FAFSA completion. These volunteers participated in day-long trainings and “FAFSA shadowing” before staffing FAFSA completion events at Jackson’s seven public high schools.

Key higher education partners included Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the Mississippi Community College Board, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, the Mississippi Office of Student Financial Aid, Belhaven University, Hinds Community College, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women, Tougaloo College, University of Mississippi Medical Center, and the University of Mississippi.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Thursday, September 21, 2017

Good Blue-Collar News That Donors Can Use

Investments in “middle-skill” jobs can open powerful paths to prosperity

This article is from the Summer 2016 issue of Philanthropy magazine, a publication of The Philanthropy Roundtable. View the full article on Philanthropy Roundtable, here.

What kind of education does it take to obtain a middle-class wage in America today? The answer might surprise you.

On the one hand, the days of earning a living with only a high-school diploma are waning; 22 percent of young adults with this level of education are in poverty today, compared to 7 percent in 1979. While offshoring and trade are often blamed for the decline of ­working-class opportunities, the fact is that U.S. manufacturing is actually increasing its output. Technological advancements, however, are enabling machines to replace low-skill jobs. This means that ­working-class life can no longer be solidly built on toil alone—skills are required. A 2012 report by ­Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute summarizes: “In the postindustrial economy, the notion of a muscular working class has gone the way of U.S. Steel, displaced by a new class of working families in postindustrial jobs that require at least some college.”

The conventional response to this trend is to push a four-year bachelor’s degree for everyone, more or less assuming job prospects on the other side will take care of themselves. And today’s college infra­structure is in major ways built to push young people toward a bachelor’s degree over any other credential.

The unfortunate result is that many youths are prodded onto a traditional college path they are unprepared and unsuited for, leading to high dropout rates and a growing number of Americans with some college experience—and debt—but no completed degree. This approach has also failed adults in low-wage jobs who want to boost their economic prospects but can’t realistically devote four to six years to earning a degree that might or might not improve their earning ­potential. The result is that for many working adults, college is a failed and financially costly experience that doesn’t lead to useful credentials or improved life outcomes. Even some of those who persist all the way to a bachelor’s degree discover it isn’t a guaranteed path to economic prosperity. And employers find that in an era where four-year college degrees are diluted and pushed on everyone, this traditional proxy for skills and knowledge isn’t as valuable as it once was.

Yet, strikingly, there is a growing pool of jobs today—to the tune of 29 million—that require what academics call “middle skills.” These skills are generally conferred by apprenticeships or organized postsecondary education other than a bachelor’s degree. Persons capable of doing these jobs are in many places sought hungrily by employers, and the positions pay enough to launch any steadily working head of household into the middle class.

Movement-building is just one way for donors to get involved.

Despite attractive salaries and benefits, employers in many places are experiencing shortages of workers qualified for middle-skill jobs—particularly in fields like health care, advanced manufacturing, and energy. Some employers like Toyota and ExxonMobil have created their own training and credentialing programs, or have partnered with local community colleges and non­profits, in order to keep their labor pipeline filled. Other smaller businesses have created apprenticeships or worked with ­nonprofits to pull high-school graduates into programs that will leave them qualified for positions like electrician or stonemason. General appreciation of the breadth of middle-skill opportunities, however, remains low. Businesses and low-skill workers alike need help erecting programs that can bridge this economic gap.

Unfortunately, career and technical education has an image problem. In some circles technical education is associated with blue-collar jobs without much upside. With many K-12 schools defining success simply by the number of students they send to four-year colleges, the bias against career education can be pronounced.

“That’s not to say college access is bad, but if all we do is send the message that it’s college or bust, we’re not really giving the right kind of opportunities to everybody,” says Chauncy Lennon, who leads JPMorgan Chase’s philanthropic workforce development initiatives. ­Nicholas Wyman of the Institute for Workplace Skills & Innovation confirms that even though programs now exist that give students stellar credentials and career prospects, technical training remains anathema to some. “Today, ­high-schoolers hear barely a whisper about the many doors that the vocational education path can open.”


What donors can do


Enter private philanthropy. For the past year I’ve been researching the best ­donor-funded efforts throughout the nation focused on connecting workers with opportunities to enter the middle class. These programs make sure workers are ­job-ready in a basic sense, confirming they have the entry-level skills that were the focus of our previous guidebook ­Clearing Obstacles to Work: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Fostering Self-Reliance, and then offer detailed, sometimes complex, technical education that equips workers for a ­rewarding career and greater upward mobility.

Some of the existing efforts are broad and national. For example, ­JPMorgan Chase has committed $250 million over five years to further define and disseminate middle-skill career pathways. The Lumina Foundation is using an endowment of over $1 billion to help raise the percentage of Americans with a high-­quality postsecondary degree to 60 percent by 2025. These larger initiatives employ a variety of means—national gatherings where standards are set and needs are identified, collaborations between companies and educators, public campaigns and ­advocacy—to advance their missions.

The Bill & Melinda Gates ­Foundation has become involved in ways ranging from providing financial aid to collecting important data. Gates is also trying to strengthen the public image of alternative career pathways by funding research incubators like Jobs for the Future and the ACT Foundation.

But movement-building is just one way for donors to get involved. Philanthropists are also working hard to raise STEM job awareness in high school, facilitate internships with area employers, and pay for the research to understand current job opportunities and the corresponding skills necessary, among many other interventions and incremental improvements.

An example at the local level is the Pinkerton Foundation, which directs $14 million in annual giving to support career-internship opportunities, industry-specific certifications, and rigorous job-training programs that teach both the hard and soft skills needed to advance in the workplace. Focusing on at-risk youth in the New York City region, Pinkerton encourages trainers to work closely with local employers so the skill sets developed are in line with available local jobs.

Many other foundations are ­making similar investments in young people. The Claude Worthington Benedum ­Foundation is focusing on blue-collar workers in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania, even embedding career academies into high schools. In the City of Brotherly Love, the Lenfest ­Foundation supports Penn Medicine’s volunteer ­programs for adults, college students, and teens. Students as young as 14 can volunteer over the summer at the university’s hospital, gaining exposure to well-paid careers in medicine that are currently short of qualified workers.

Business leaders are also getting involved. In Houston, local businessman Beau Pollock needed more electricians for his enterprise and started a direct relationship with YES Prep and his local KIPP charter schools. Now students showing interest in the electric profession can work directly with his company out of high school. Robert Luddy—a donor, entrepreneur, and founder of CaptiveAire Systems (America’s leading supplier of kitchen ventilation systems)—has woven apprenticeships both into his business and into his network of private schools in North Carolina. “Apprenticeship is the best of all worlds,” says Luddy, stressing the importance of on-the-job experience. As sophomores, students in Luddy’s Thales Academy can obtain a certificate in ­SolidWorks, which alone would enable them to make between $40,000 and $60,000 in the marketplace.


The community-college connection

Recently deceased donor and Intel co-founder Andrew Grove carved his niche by offering scholarships for career and technical education. He typically gave out 100 scholarships per year to students in community college who were ­transitioning directly to the workforce rather than a four-year school. As Grove found, improvements in community college curricula and delivery are an excellent mechanism for training the next generation of middle-skill workers.

For example, take Rio Salado ­College in Tempe, Arizona. Rio ­Salado educates over 57,000 students at any given time—30,000 of whom are accessing all of their instruction online. It’s the largest online community college in the U.S., and has classes that start on 48 dates throughout the year—an especially attractive feature for adult learners. The college offers a vast variety of programs—mobile apps programming, infant and toddler development, dental assisting, quality customer service, small business startup, and paralegal. With the help of the Gates Foundation and other donors, Rio ­Salado has peer mentors, career coaches, and other support for learners to make sure that they enroll in classes that match available ­well-paying jobs needed in the community.

Another promising example with a slightly different twist is Valencia ­College in Orlando, Florida. Leaders at the college have found that a traditional academic model—here’s a list of classes, take a few over two or so years—isn’t working well for career advancement. So instead, Valencia is doubling down and accelerating many of its programs to take around five weeks. These short bursts of training are ideal for adults who are already working. “If we take them through a series of very short tunnels, where the opportunity cost of lost wages while they’re in school is small, they’re perfectly willing to enroll,” says Valencia president Sandy Shugart. Accelerated tracks are focused on obtaining a “stackable” credential that, in various combinations, leads to a middle-skill job. Valencia’s most popular tracks are in nursing, cardiovascular technology, engineering technologies, entertainment-related technologies, criminal justice, and paralegal work.

Funding partner organizations that offer supports to keep students on track is one of the most valuable roles philanthropy can play. But the best way to mitigate barriers is to keep the program short.

In addition to accelerated options, Valencia works with its local Goodwill (see Jim Gibbons interview on page 14) to provide services like child care and transportation for students who need them—eliminating common obstacles that prevent students from persisting all the way to a useful credential. Funding partner organizations that offer these supports and keep students on track, says Shugart, is one of the most valuable roles philanthropy can play. But he stresses that the best way to mitigate some of these barriers is to keep the program

short—the longer the program, the more likely that something will come up.

Shugart describes Orlando as a juxtaposition between two ­economies—high-tech prosperous jobs and low-skilled, low-paying ones. “We have the most powerful economy in the world for putting unskilled people into ­low-paying jobs,” he says. “The problem is that these jobs are hard to move up from. It takes two body lengths to reach the next rung on the ladder. So our strategy has been to add more rungs to the ladder. We have lots of people in our community who need a very short burst of training that will move their value to an employer by $2 an hour or more.”


Five ways to kickstart career education


This concept of putting more rungs on the ladder, or “upskilling,” is gaining traction among workforce nonprofits, community colleges, and employers. I interviewed dozens of donors, experts, and nonprofit practitioners on the subject, and their remarks coalesced around five common practices:


Create clear pathways. Career mapping is essential, because adult workers need a discernable return on investment before they are willing to enroll in a program. Successful community colleges and other programs demonstrate each step a student needs to take to complete the program for a credential and embark on an upward career path.

Condense timeframes and increase schedule flexibility. Accelerated programs like the ones Valencia offers are very attractive to learners. In some cases, schools are condensing a nine-month class into 16 weeks. Low-income workers can’t afford to take off a year for training, but they might be able to take evening classes for four months.

Overcome negative perceptions about ­postsecondary education. ­Low-income workers might not view themselves as able to successfully swim in the waters of postsecondary education. Effective programs inspire their students and affirm that completing the credential is possible and expected.

Acknowledge and account for remedial learners. Some adult learners face the fundamental roadblock of lacking skills in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Accelerated programs to bring them up to speed is essential to completing higher credentials.

Offer student services that make class attendance easier. The McKinsey Social Initiative has found that distance to class is the top indicator of whether a new arrival will persist. Transportation obstacles are serious. Addressing practical hurdles like that can often make or break an adult learner’s success.

Partly thanks to creative help from donors, the field of career and technical education is ready for a renaissance. Philanthropists willing to invest and explore career and technical education will be pleasantly surprised. “This isn’t your grandfather’s vocational education,” says Lucretia Murphy of Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit expanding ­workforce opportunities. “These are good jobs. These are ­well-paying jobs. These are jobs that put people in line for promotions. These are jobs that are fulfilling.”




David Bass is author of the forthcoming Philanthropy Roundtable book Learning to be Useful: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Supporting Career and Technical Education, from which this is excerpted.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, June 13, 2017

National College Access Network Highlights Get2College Program

The National College Access Network (NCAN) recently featured Get2College (G2CX) in its blog, highlighting the G2C's new effort to scale its efforts by partnering with community colleges to increase FAFSA completions statewide. The full text of the blog post is posted below or can be viewed on NCAN's blog here.

Get2College's Community Collaboration for FAFSA Completion


By Courtney Argenti, Graduate Policy Intern 

NCAN member Get2College is Mississippi’s recognized expert resource for college admission and financial aid advice. Its small team of 18 people covers a lot of ground — and it's about to cover more: Get2College recently partnered with community colleges to increase FAFSA completions statewide. The end goal for this collaboration is to have the institutions creating and implementing their own FAFSA completion efforts, while Get2College provides support.

In Mississippi, a community college truly lives up to its name: a college within and for the community. Many Mississippi students attend a community college at some point in their postsecondary career. Similarly, a large majority of postsecondary students in Mississippi stay in the state for their studies. “We have a saying about that here in Mississippi,” explained Kiersten Knaus, Get2College Assistant Director and College Advisor. “It’s that Mississippi mud that sticks to everybody.”

That Mississippi mud is a driving force for increasing statewide FAFSA completions: There are two state grants and one statewide scholarship that Mississippi students are eligible for if they complete the FAFSA.

“We partnered with people who we knew had a stake in getting FAFSAs completed for their students,” Knaus said. “We thought about what already exists in Mississippi that serves the entire state. That [community college network] already exists. We just want to build on that.”

Get2College met with the Mississippi Department of Education, the State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), and the Mississippi Community College Board to talk strategy for increasing FAFSA completion. Over two years, the plan is to shift Get2College’s role from leading all FAFSA completion initiatives to playing a supportive role for six of the 15 community colleges.

“Our approach to FAFSA completion is different than others’ … We do counselor professional development on the front end by educating counselors on handling effective FAFSA days,” Knaus explained.

Get2College provides training to counselors, volunteers, and other college access stakeholders on completing the FAFSA. “It’s not just going line by line and completing the FAFSA [in the trainings]," Knaus continued. "We debunk myths. We discuss important questions, like whose information you use on which part of the FAFSA."

By providing this training, Get2College hopes to hand over the reins for the six community colleges' FAFSA completion efforts. The institutions will design and implement and their own FAFSA completion events and FAFSA awareness campaigns, while Get2College will provide the support and serve as a link between high schools and community colleges.

NCAN applauds this collaboration and strategic model for FAFSA completion: It is efficient, it is empowering for communities and community colleges, and if successful, it will serve as a FAFSA completion model for the other seven community colleges in Mississippi.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Friday, June 2, 2017

Get2College Helping Boost FAFSA Completion Rate

Get2College Helping Boost FAFSA Completion Rate in Jackson Public School District

FAFSA Completion Rate Has Increased by 15 Percent through Activities Funded by a Grant from the Kresge Foundation and National College Access Network

JACKSON, MS. – Get2College, a program that provides counseling and support services on college admission and financial aid throughout Mississippi, has helped boost the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rate among seniors in the Jackson Public School District (JPS) by more than 15 percent this year. Jackson was one of twenty-two cities in the nation to receive a FAFSA Completion Challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation and the National College Access Network (NCAN).

The goal of the challenge grants is to strengthen urban higher education ecosystems by raising FAFSA completion rates among high school seniors in cities across the country. Kresge made a $1.6 million grant to launch the program, which challenges the winning cities to increase FAFSA completion rates by at least 5 percent for the graduating high school class of 2017.

As the flagship program of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF), Get2College is a central component to the organization’s efforts to increase college access and entry for young people in Mississippi and support promising practices that lead to college persistence and completion.

“We are tremendously excited because we have already surpassed our initial goal of increasing the FAFSA completion rate in JPS high schools by 15 percent,” said Ann Hendrick, Director of the Get2College program. “But more than that, we are excited because students who complete a FAFSA are almost twice as likely to go to college after they graduate.

Get2College partnered with College Countdown Mississippi which is a collaboration of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), the Community College Board, and the State Office of Financial Aid. Other local organizations such as the Mississippi Association of College Registrars and Admission Officers (MACRAO), Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the City of Jackson and Leadership Greater Jackson, sponsored by the Greater Jackson Chamber, helped to create a college culture by providing workshops, hosting college application and signing days, and promoting FAFSA completion via social media.

“I am extremely proud of the increase in participation of the FAFSA program by our high school seniors,” said JPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Fredrick Murray. “This partnership provides excellent services for our senior students and parents as they seek funding and admission to institutions of higher learning.”

Get2College has several activities planned to increase FAFSA completions among JPS seniors prior to the June 30 deadline, including FAFSA Completion Days scheduled at local high schools.

“By increasing access to college and providing the resources and support students need to graduate, we are helping Mississippi become more competitive in the region and more attractive to potential residents and businesses,” said Jim McHale, President and CEO of WHEF. “The collaborative efforts that have made this work in Jackson Public Schools so successful is a model that can be replicated to improve access, completion, and persistence in institutions of higher learning across the state.”

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Woodward Hines Education Foundation Broadens through Recent New Hires and Internal Restructuring


Woodward Hines Education Foundation Broadens through Recent New Hires and Internal Restructuring

JACKSON, MS. – The Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF), formerly the Education Services Foundation, recently announced two internal promotions and three new hires. The infusion of new talent and internal reorganizing will support the foundation’s mission to help more Mississippians obtain postsecondary credentials, college certifications, and degrees that lead to meaningful employment.

Chellese Hall was named Communications Coordinator for WHEF and assists in the management of the foundation’s flagship program, Get2College, which serves students and families across the state. Hall previously served as Community Relations Manager for the Mississippi Children’s Museum. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Communications and Journalism from Belhaven University and is a board member of the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi.

Melia Dicker recently joined WHEF as the new Director of Jackson’s Get2College Center, which serves students and their families and provides support to high school counselors in central Mississippi. Dicker previously served as Communications Director for the Mississippi Arts Commission. She is a graduate of Santa Clara University and has earned a Certificate from the Else School of Management at Millsaps College.

WHEF has also promoted key individuals to new roles within the organization. Minette Ketchings has been named Director of Operations. Ketchings has worked for WHEF for more than 20 years and previously served as the foundation’s Controller. She holds Bachelor of Professional Accountancy degree from Mississippi State University and is a Certified Public Accountant.

Shanell Watson was named Associate Program Officer for WHEF. Watson has worked for the foundation for more than 10 years, most recently serving as the Data Analyst and Technical Coordinator. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Master of Accountancy from Millsaps College and is a Certified Public Accountant.

“We are excited about the new additions to the foundation and the new roles that staff members are taking on,” said Jim McHale, President and CEO of WHEF. “Our staff’s diverse experience and expertise are essential to realizing our vision of helping Mississippians secure the training and education beyond high school that will allow them to advance their quality of life and strengthen our state.”

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Corporate Name Change Announcement to WHEF

Education Services Foundation Announces Corporate Name Change to Woodward Hines Education Foundation

Name Change Signals Major Step in Repositioning as a More Active Partner in College Access and Success

 JACKSON, MS. – Education Services Foundation, a nonprofit working to help Mississippi students plan and pay for college, has announced that it is changing its name to the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF).

The new name honors the vision and legacy of Jack Woodward and J. Herman Hines, both Mississippians instrumental in originally forming the foundation as a catalyst for improving access to postsecondary education for residents across the state.

“With this name change, we convey the tremendous contribution these two great men have made in improving college access and success in our state,” said David Martin, chair of the WHEF board of directors. “We are proud to continue the extremely critical work Jack Woodward and Herman Hines started nearly four decades ago.”

The foundation’s flagship program, Get2College, has centers in Jackson, Ocean Springs, and Southaven that reach more than 45,000 Mississippi students annually, providing individual counseling on college admission and financial aid.

“Our data shows the work we are doing around higher education access makes a difference for students in communities across the state,” said Jim McHale, president and CEO of WHEF. “However, we also know the higher education graduation rate for Mississippi students lags behind the national rate, which is why we want to continue to make smart investments in promising practices that not only increase access, but also support persistence and completion.”

In 2016, only 23 percent of Mississippians graduate from two-year colleges within three years, and only half graduate from four-year colleges within six years. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 65 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training by 2020, which underscores the need to increase the number of Mississippians who obtain quality postsecondary credentials, certificates and degrees.

“We are excited about expanding our work with public and private sector partners to increase the number of Mississippians with the training and education needed to create long-term growth in the state,” said McHale. “That’s why Jack Woodward and Herman Hines started this work, and it’s why we are committed to continue building upon their vision.”

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, May 24, 2016