New WHEF Faces and Titles

The Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) welcomed three new employees in December and January. With the revamping of WHEF’s organizational structure, several employees have undergone title changes to support its new strategic plan and levers of change. 

Three New Faces 

Josephine Dunigan joined WHEF in December 2022 as the coordinator of GEAR UP Outreach with Delta State University. She has an extensive background in the world of education. An Information Technology graduate of Mississippi Valley State University with a Master’s degree in Management Leadership, Josephine brings a history of positive results and dedication from her previous roles. She aims to make the students, schools, and families she supports as a coordinator feel valued and have the best access to postsecondary resources.  

Josephine is based in Indianola, MS, and has two sons, one who went to Mississippi State University and served in the Marine Corps for eight years and the other who attends Jackson State University. When she is not traveling around the Delta supporting schools, she loves reading and traveling. 

WHEF also welcomed Morgan Miller to the communications, policy, and advocacy team as director in January 2023. Morgan recently moved back to Jackson after serving as a director of communications in student services at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, focusing on marketing and digital strategy for student engagement and well-being.  

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 2010, Morgan moved to Jackson from her hometown, Atlantic City, NJ, to be a meteorologist and reporter for WJTV News Channel 12. In 2013, she transitioned into public relations and communications, working for the ACLU of Mississippi and then the Mississippi Department of Transportation, cultivating her passion for communications strategy as a public service. Morgan lives in Jackson with her family, two dogs, and a cat. When she is not thinking about communications strategy, she can be found listening to podcasts, baking, or teaching yoga.  

Jackie Rogers joined WHEF in December 2022 as the communications, policy, and advocacy project manager. Prior to WHEF, she worked for the Program in International Affairs, a degree-granting academic unit at the University of Colorado Boulder. During her tenure there, she helped the program incorporate new communications tools, increase alumni engagement, and launch multiple annual events.  

Jackie graduated from Central Michigan University, where she majored in communications and art. She holds a Master of Education degree in higher and postsecondary education from Arizona State University. When not in the WHEF office, she can be found on her farm running around with her dogs or among the cows, chickens, and bees. 

Strategic Title Changes & Promotions

Kierstan Dufour is now WHEF’s director of external training & partnerships for Get2College. She has led the Foundation’s FAFSA scaling efforts and created training/professional development programming for Mississippi educators to support college access for Mississippi students. Kierstan partnered in the creation of the curriculum, student workbook materials, and Master Teacher of CCR course for the support of the graduation requirement College and Career Readiness high school class. She serves on the National College Attainment Networks FAFSA Expert advisory board and is published in the Foundation Review for FAFSA scaling work. Kierstan joined WHEF in 2015. 

Shannon Grimsley joins Kierstan as the assistant director of eternal training and partnerships. She will support the expansion of WHEF’s scaling efforts and professional development and training for statewide partners. Shannon began at WHEF in 2011 after 13 years at Millsaps College, focusing on Admissions. 

Nikki Jackson will serve as a program manager reporting to the Chief of Staff and supporting WHEF’s grantmaking investments beginning in March 2023. Prior to joining the WHEF team in 2017, Nikki accumulated over twenty years of experience championing the needs of under-resourced communities to achieve economic self-sufficiency and enhance their quality of life. Her previous roles have included need-based data analysis, legal and governmental document evaluation, and case management.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. 

Minette D. Ketchings now serves as the chief operating officer and controller of WHEF. Minette also serves as the corporate secretary of WHEF and MHEAC. She began her career with the organization in 1991. She holds a Bachelor of Professional Accountancy degree from Mississippi State University and is a licensed CPA. 

Shanell Watson now serves as chief of staff for WHEF. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing the Foundation’s grantmaking investments, and managing organizational research, evaluation, and learning processes. Since joining the Foundation in 2007, Shanell has served in various roles, including financial analyst, data analyst, and, most recently, program officer. She was a member of Philanthropy Southeast‘s 2020 Hull Fellows Leadership Class and currently serves on the governing boards of the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi and the Community Foundation for Mississippi. 

Posted by Comms Department at Tuesday, February 21, 2023

New Report Highlights Economic Return on Postsecondary Investment

Blue and white logos of Woodward Hines Education Foundation and Mississippi Economic Council

January 23, 2023
Updated February 6, 2023

New Report Highlights Economic Return on Postsecondary Investment

JACKSON, MISS. - Today, Ithaka S+R released a new report commissioned by Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) highlighting the economic impact of increasing access to and completion of postsecondary credentials in Mississippi. The report, titled Strengthening Mississippi’s Economic Future Through Postsecondary Investment, provides stakeholders who would benefit from the achievement of the statewide postsecondary attainment goal, Ascent to 55%, with information to make strategic investments in postsecondary education.

“Our mission is to help more Mississippians obtain postsecondary credentials that lead to meaningful employment,” said WHEF President & CEO Jim McHale. “This report highlights why the Ascent to 55% effort is so important to Mississippi and offers essential guidance to help reach our north star of increasing postsecondary attainment for Mississippi’s future.”

Currently, 48.5 percent (updated January 2023) of Mississippi residents possess education and training beyond high school. Ascent to 55% was adopted in October 2020 by the Mississippi Education Achievement Council (EAC) to improve the state’s ability to competitively attract and retain workforce talent by increasing postsecondary attainment. Nationally, the average attainment is 53.7 percent (updated January 2023). The goal is to achieve 55 percent attainment for 25 to 64-year-olds by 2030 and 60 percent attainment by 2035.

According to the report, Mississippi could potentially gain over $376 million annually in increased tax revenue and decreased social services spending if the state increased its attainment rate to 60 percent. Cameron Childress, a senior analyst at Ithaka S+R and one of the report’s authors, noted that “a more educated population would earn higher wages and support industries that are key to state and local economies.”

As the state chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) has a vested interest in creating opportunities to enhance Mississippi’s workforce and support the Ascent to 55% goal.

“When we invest in increasing certificates and degrees, particularly for lower-income Mississippians, people of color, and rural communities, we can strengthen the workforce and labor market,” said MEC President & CEO Scott Waller. “The recommendations in the report could greatly impact our economic future and develop a more competitive workforce. It proposes additional pathways to reaching Ascent to 55%.”

The report also highlights the impact of closing equity gaps in attainment and earnings for underrepresented populations. According to Ithaka S+R, investing in developmental education policies that work with students that need the most support is especially beneficial to the state.

“The numbers speak volumes,” said McHale. “They show that we’re on the right path in our efforts to collaborate with public and private partners to reach our statewide postsecondary attainment goal and to positively impact Mississippi's economy.”

To read the full report, visit

About Woodward Hines Education Foundation

Since its inception, WHEF has worked to increase college access and entry for people in Mississippi and has expanded that work to support promising practices that lead to college persistence and completion. The Foundation envisions a Mississippi where all people can secure the training and education beyond high school that will allow them to advance their quality of life, strengthen their communities, and contribute to a vibrant and prosperous future for the state. Learn more about WHEF by visiting

About Mississippi Economic Council

The Mississippi Economic Council – the State Chamber of Commerce has been the voice of Mississippi business since 1949. MEC deals with broad businesses issues through advocacy, research, resources, and leadership. MEC has more than 11,000 members from 1,000 member firms in 2,400 locations throughout Mississippi.

About Ithaka S+R

Ithaka S+R provides research and strategic guidance to help the academic and cultural communities serve the public good and navigate economic, demographic, and technological change. Ithaka S+R is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit with a mission to improve access to knowledge and education for people around the world. We believe education is key to the wellbeing of individuals and society, and we work to make it more effective and affordable.

at Monday, January 23, 2023

Improve College Affordability in Mississippi

Improve College Affordability in Mississippi

Redesign Mississippi’s Resident Tuition Assistance Grant (MTAG) and Reform the Higher Education Legislative Plan for Needy Students (HELP)

View the full summary (pdf) by HCM Strategists.

Improve college affordability to strengthen Mississippi’s workforce pipeline

Education is the cornerstone of economic mobility in Mississippi. More Mississippians need access to affordable education and training to prepare for in-demand jobs and to expand economic development opportunities in the state. Jobs requiring postsecondary education will continue to grow, yet there is a shortfall in the production of those credentials. Fewer high school students are going directly to college and nearly 200,000 working-aged adults would benefit from earning a credential. Improving college affordability supports the goals of Ascent to 55% and Accelerate MS to increase attainment and transform the state’s workforce.

Investing in state financial aid will spark economic development with a prepared workforce.

Mississippi’s financial aid programs have served students for over 25 years and have largely remained unchanged. Investing an additional $21 million will address key design issues to ensure MTAG keeps pace with the needs of the workforce.

Program Details

Mississippi State Financial Aid Task Force

The Woodward Hines Education Foundation convened a nonpartisan task force in 2022 of 16 education and workforce leaders in Mississippi. The group explored how Mississippi’s student financial aid investments can be best leveraged to meet the economic development needs of the state. They reviewed state and national data exploring the impact of Mississippi’s current student financial aid investments, current and future workforce needs, postsecondary attainment levels, needs of adult and part-time students, and high-growth and in-demand jobs. 

  • Dr. Jay Allen, President, Itawamba Community College; Chair, Education Achievement Council
  • Dr. Philip Bonfanti, Executive Vice President of Student Services and Enrollment, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
  • Dr. Jason Dean, Executive Director, Mississippi Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
  • Ann Hendrick, Director of the Get2College Program, Woodward Hines Education Foundation (retired)
  • Thomas Hudson, President, Jackson State University
  • Dr. Tyrone Jackson, President, Mississippi Delta Community College
  • Dr. Paul McKinney, Director of Financial Aid, Mississippi State University
  • Ryan Miller, Executive Director, Office of Workforce Development (Accelerate MS)
  • Amber Palmer, Complete2Compete Project Manager, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning   
  • Dr. Casey Prestwood, Associate Commissioner for Academic and Student Affairs, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning
  • Dr. Jennifer Rogers, Director, Mississippi Office of Student Financial Aid
  • Kell Smith, Acting Executive Director, Mississippi Community College Board
  • Dr. James Turcotte, Board Chair, Mississippi Postsecondary Education Financial Assistance Board
  • Scott Waller, President, Mississippi Economic Council
  • Apryll Washington, Assistant Director of Policy and Planning, Mississippi Office of Student Financial  Aid
  • Dr. Earl Watkins, Superintendent, Mississippi Achievement School District

The nonpartisan task force was supported by
Lumina Foundation’s Strategy Labs with HCM Strategists providing subject-matter expertise and meeting facilitation support from Dr. Jimmy Clarke, Dr. Nate Johnson, and Dr. Rachelle Sharpe, with analysis support from Dr. Kimberly Hanauer of UnlockED.

at Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Important Information On Federal Student Loan Forgiveness


Student Loan Debt Relief is Blocked

Courts have issued orders blocking the student debt relief program. As a result, at this time, the Department of Education is not accepting applications. The Biden-Harris Administration is seeking to overturn those orders. 



On Aug. 24, 2022, The Biden-Harris Administration announced a federal student loan cancellation plan. The initiative applies to borrowers with federally-held education loans – the same loans that are covered by the pandemic-related payment pause. Eligible loans must have been disbursed by June 30, 2022.

Under the Biden-Harris plan, borrowers with annual income below $125,000 (individuals) and $250,000 (married couples/head of households) may have up to $10,000 of their federal student loans cancelled. If borrowers also received a Pell Grant when in school, then their loan forgiveness may be up to $20,000. If the borrower was enrolled as a dependent student in the 2021-22 school year, the parent(s) income will be used to determine the income threshold.

Cancellation will be automatic if the Department of Education has the borrower’s income data for tax years 2020 or 2021. If the Department does not have the borrower’s income information, borrowers must submit a simple application. 

Borrowers can view their loan balances and check their Pell Grant status by logging into their Federal Student Aid account online at

Commercially-held Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL)

As of Sept. 29, 2022, borrowers with federal student loans not held by the Department cannot obtain one-time debt relief by consolidating those loans into the Direct Loan program. Borrowers with FFEL Program loans and Perkins Loans not held by the Department who have applied to consolidate into the Direct Loan program prior to Sept. 29, 2022, are eligible for one-time debt relief through the Direct Loan program. The Department is assessing whether there are alternative pathways to provide relief to borrowers with federal student loans not held by the Department, including FFEL Program loans and Perkins Loans, and is discussing this with private lenders.

Watch Out for Bad Information and Scammers

Be skeptical of information disseminated from sources other than the Department of Education and your servicer. Beware of scammers trying to take advantage of the Biden-Harris announcement. No legitimate company is going to charge you to help you apply for or receive the cancellation.

We encourage you to go directly to the Federal Student Aid website,, and FAQ page,, for the most up-to-date information or contact your servicer.

Posted by Comms Department at Friday, September 9, 2022

Apply to Public Service Loan Forgiveness Waiver by Oct. 31

August 31, 2022

If you are a non-profit or government employee with federal direct student loan debt, you may be eligible to apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) voucher, available until October 31, 2022. 

This waiver gives qualified borrowers the unique opportunity to receive credit for past payments, even if they didn’t make previous payments on time, in full, or under the correct repayment plan. 

The PSLF Program forgives the remaining balance on a borrower's direct loans after they have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. This voucher program provides borrowers assistance in meeting the 120 qualifying payments. 

According to the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid website, “Borrowers must be employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization. Federal service includes U.S. military service.”

If you are unsure if your employer qualifies, you can search for them using Student Aid’s Employer Search Tool.

Loans from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program and the Federal Perkins Loan (Perkins Loan) Program are not eligible for the PSLF program. However, they may become eligible if you consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan by the October 31 deadline.

To learn more about this opportunity and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, visit these resources below:


at Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Statement on Federal Student Loan Forgiveness

August 29, 2022

The Biden administration has announced a series of reforms addressing federal student loan debt. As a result of this decision, millions of borrowers who earn less than $125,000 a year could receive up to $10,000 in debt forgiveness. For Pell Grant recipients, this amount increases to $20,000. We recognize that this monumental policy would provide much needed relief for many Mississippians.

We must acknowledge that this decision is just one aspect of addressing a much broader college affordability crisis. While these efforts benefit past borrowers, policymakers must ensure that future student loans act as a responsible tool for opportunity and social mobility, not a cycle of poverty. 

It is our hope that this moment leads to increased discussions and actions around college affordability.  In the meantime, we will continue to serve Mississippi students directly through our Get2College program and engage stakeholders in conversation around increasing college attainment and meeting our workforce needs. 

at Monday, August 29, 2022

Opinion: Poverty. Homelessness. College students.

by MonYonna Braxton

April 29, 2022

One study found that nearly three out of five students experienced basic needs insecurity during the pandemic, meaning that they did not have stable access to housing or food.

I was one of them. On September 18, 2020, I was physically assaulted and left with nowhere to go. I felt alone, abandoned, and rejected.

School became tertiary; my focus was getting through the days. I could not comfortably afford food or health care. I often wondered how this could happen to “someone like me,” a good student who is hardworking and dedicated to her studies.

When I sought help from people on campus, I was initially met with responses like, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing that I can do” or “Speak with your guardian.” I distinctly remember feeling like a burden to administrators.

It was not until I was introduced to a woman in Mobile, AL that I received the assistance that I desperately needed. This stranger, now godmother, knew how to navigate higher education in ways that I did not. My instructions were to communicate my concerns with my program directors. Once in contact with the right people, I received the help that I needed. While my situation may seem uncommon, it is far from it.

In a landscape basic needs survey of nearly 200,000 students, 48% reported that they experienced housing insecurity, and 14% experienced homelessness in the fall of 2020. Black students were 16% more likely to experience basic needs insecurity than their white counterparts.

Knowing how common this issue is nationally,  it begs the question: how prevalent is housing and food insecurity on our campus? How many students skip meals or cannot pay their rent?

Though my situation has improved, the problem of homelessness on our college campus still exists. Regrettably, there is no specific department or person at USM whose job is to support students’ basic needs.

At USM, resources like Eagle’s Nest Food Pantry, Swipe Away Hunger, and Seymour's Career Closet exist to help students secure food and professional clothing. These initiatives are a great start but I think we can do more to meet students where they are - with dignity and care.

I believe that our university should conduct a landscape basic needs study to find out how common this issue is. This would give campus leaders a better understanding of how and where to address homelessness on college campuses. Once data is collected, we will be able to provide ample support to vulnerable students.  Common recommendations to fight basic needs insecurity include providing emergency financial aid, helping students apply for public benefits like SNAP, and stigmatizing the use of emergency resources.

So, the question that I leave administrators and those in a position of power is simply this -  how will you assist students whose struggles have long gone unnoticed?

MonYonna Braxton is a master’s student at the University of Southern Mississippi where she studies Higher Education Administration. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Southern Mississippi as well. She is also a Woodward Hines Education Foundation Student Advocacy Corps Intern.

Posted by Comms Department at Friday, April 29, 2022

Opinion: An Open Letter to the Immigrant Student Applying to College

By Nirmal Bhatt

April 27, 2022 

Dear immigrant student,

If you want to go to college in the United States, be prepared to fight. There is no way to sugarcoat it: Most colleges are not set up to understand your challenges and needs. I want to share my story and resources so that your path may be easier.

Despite living in the U.S. for nine years and graduating from high school in Tennessee, my home state considered me an out-of-state student when applying for college. This is common for immigrants.

So, why aren’t immigrant students considered in-state students?

In order to qualify for in-state tuition in most states, one must establish “permanent residence” by doing things like registering to vote. However, these prerequisites are often inaccessible to immigrants, because they are not citizens and are often stuck in a long line waiting for permanent residency, if that is even an option.

This means that no matter how long immigrants have resided in one state and no matter how much they have done for their community, they will still be forced to pay disproportionately more than their peers for the same opportunities.

At public colleges, students’ residencies are divided into three categories: in-state, out-of-state, and international. The cost of attending these schools varies drastically based on your residency. The average cost of in-state tuition is $9,580, but that number rises to $27,437 for out-of-state tuition, according to the Education Data Initiative.

In Mississippi, “All aliens are classified as nonresidents.” While there are exemptions for immigrants holding refugee status or temporary resident status, this rule precludes most immigrants from accessing in-state tuition benefits. Colleges in Mississippi offer out-of-state tuition waivers, but they depend on a student’s standardized test scores.

All hope, however, is not lost.

At least 19 states currently extend in-state rates to undocumented students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In New Jersey, dependent children of certain visa holders can receive in-state tuition. Similar laws require that immigrant students attend and graduate from in-state high schools and plan to apply for legal status in order to receive in-state tuition. If other states want immigrant students to also have a shot at going to college in the U.S., they should consider following suit.

Working to raise awareness of these issues is critical to solving them. I was fortunate enough to find pockets of funding through advisers and college administrators sympathetic to my situation. Finding funding is difficult, but colleges and organizations like The Hidden Dream can be great tools. The Hidden Dream is a nonprofit organization focused on helping immigrant children by providing a variety of resources (scholarship lists, job referrals, etc.) designed to help immigrants navigate their lives. I have benefited from their resources, and I hope that you too will go to and take advantage of these resources as you navigate the higher education system.


Nirmal Bhatt is a senior at Mississippi State University where he studies mechanical engineering. He is also a Student Advocacy Corps Intern at the Woodward Hines Education Foundation. In the fall, he will pursue a Master of Science in Technology and Policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This article was originally published through the National College Attainment Network

Posted by Comms Department at Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Announcing the Retirement of Get2College Program Director, Ann Hendrick

April 7, 2022

After seventeen years at the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF), Ann Hendrick has announced her retirement as the Director of the Get2College Program, the flagship college planning program of the Foundation.

Ann began her tenure with the organization in 2002 when she joined the Board of the Education Services Foundation, now known as the Woodward Hines Education Foundation. At that time, Ann was Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Millsaps College. As the organization grew, so did Ann’s involvement. In 2005, Ann left the board and began spearheading a college access program now known as Get2College. She brought with her seventeen years of experience in higher education administration.

Initially, there was only one Get2College center in the metro-Jackson area. Due to Ann’s commitment to serving all Mississippians, three G2C centers providing in-person and virtual appointments, statewide outreach, and training now exist. Get2College serves students and families, no matter their geographic location in the state. Ann’s direction has brought students, families, and educators a more comprehensive understanding of college admission, financial aid, and college access and success issues.

Under Ann’s leadership, the program annually serves over 3,600 students and families in the center and over 12,000 students in statewide outreach and provides training to over 1,600 educators. Get2College has steadily increased the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and state aid application through its efforts. In 2019, Mississippi ranked #3 in the nation for percent of high school seniors completing the FAFSA, #5 in 2020, and #4 in 2021.

Throughout her career with WHEF, Ann has been instrumental in the evolution of the Get2College program. The program has developed to include internal advisory councils, complex use of communication technology, strategic community and statewide partnerships, data collection and research, professional development training, and new initiatives to support college access and success for students.

Thanks to Ann’s leadership, Get2College has grown from a small Mississippi organization to a nationally recognized innovator in the college access field. For years, the Get2College staff has contributed to college access conversations at the regional and national levels, ranging from FAFSA simplification to college counseling. The program’s training and toolkits are used and replicated by educators across the country. The program itself is a successful and innovative college planning organization model.

Her influence extends well beyond her work with Get2College. Ann has served on national and regional boards, including the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling, The College Board’s Southern Regional Council, and the Mississippi, Southern, and National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

“Ann has left an incredible mark on the Foundation and the state. While I know that we are losing a college access champion, we have already gained so much thanks to her contributions,” said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale.

College access in Mississippi was in its infancy when Ann first entered the field. Because of her leadership, vision, and passion, more Mississippians see post-secondary education as a possible next step. Her absence will be greatly felt.

“I will greatly miss the inspiring and dedicated team and partners I have worked with over the years. I know great things will continue to emerge from their hope and generosity,” Ann said.

As a Jackson, Mississippi native, Hendrick is a proud Murrah Mustang and Millsaps Major, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. She also holds a Master of Science in Education from Indiana University and a Theological Education degree from the University of the South.

Ann plans to retire from the role in July 2022. The Foundation has begun a national search to identify her successor.

at Wednesday, April 6, 2022

WHEF awards $1 million postsecondary attainment grant to Public Education Forum

March 3, 2022

A four-year, $1 million grant investment from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) to support Mississippi’s newly-established postsecondary attainment goal—Ascent to 55%—has been awarded to the Public Education Forum (PEF), a non-profit education and public policy research group. PEF is a subsidiary of the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC).

The goal, which aims to increase postsecondary attainment among Mississippians, was established and unanimously adopted by the Mississippi Education Achievement Council (EAC).

“Establishing a postsecondary attainment goal is aligned with projections about the future of work in Mississippi and nationally,” said Vickie Powell, Senior Vice President of Foundations at MEC.

According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 70% of all jobs will require a postsecondary degree or credential by 2027. Mississippi’s current rate of postsecondary attainment for adults, ages 25 to 64, is 44.4%, compared to the national average of 51.9% Postsecondary attainment refers to any education achieved beyond high school including an associate or bachelor’s degree, a high-quality certificate, or industry certification.

“In order to improve the lives of Mississippians and to competitively position our state within a global economy, there is a critical need to increase levels of postsecondary attainment within our state,” said Scott Waller, President and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council. “This grant award represents an investment in Mississippi and in the future of our State and its workforce.”

WHEF is an endowed Mississippi non-profit organization that has focused its efforts primarily on promoting greater access to postsecondary access among underrepresented students for over 25 years, and more recently, expanded its mission to also support increased credential and degree attainment, and workforce development.

“Ascent to 55% serves as the North Star of the Foundation. All of our work is ultimately aligned to a single outcome—improving postsecondary attainment among Mississippians,” said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. “It is our strong belief that this goal can help align Mississippi’s public policies and practices to support postsecondary attainment. It is our hope that this investment will provide meaningful support to this work.”

The grant will provide $250,000 annually for four years, for the purposes of increasing public awareness, developing partnerships with state and industry leaders, data collection, monitoring progress, and coordinating with state education officials.

“We were so happy to be selected to lead this work, but we know that we are just a small part of what is needed to move Mississippi closer to this goal and ultimately a stronger, more skilled workforce,” Powell said. “As we begin this work, we would like to invite leaders in state and local government, business, philanthropy and education to support this effort.”

The initial steps in the process include:

• Convening key stakeholders to identify areas of responsibility, goals, and potential tactics;

• Working with the EAC, WHEF, and other partners/sectors to craft and adopt a strategy to implement the attainment goal;

• Developing an appropriate structure which key partners can provide director for this work;

• Establishing and building relationships with top leaders at the regional, state, and national levels in the business, K-20 education, government, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors;

• Ensuring that goals of inclusiveness and diversity are met.


“On behalf of the Education Achievement Council, we are excited to support this goal, but also know that Ascent to 55% will not be successful if it is our goal alone,” said Itawamba Community College President and EAC Chair Dr. Jay Allen. “Achieving a goal of this scale will require a commitment from parents, students, educators, community and state leaders, elected officials, and representatives from business and industry. We invite you to join us in creating a better, brighter Mississippi.”


About the Education Achievement Council

The Education Achievement Council was established by the Mississippi Legislature in 2010 for the purpose of sustaining attention to the state's goal of increasing the educational attainment and skill levels of the state's working-age population to the national average by 2025. The Council members are representatives of state government, public K-12 leaders, public, private and proprietary higher education officials and business community leaders. The Council is currently led by Dr. Jay Allen, President of Itawamba Community College.

About Mississippi Economic Council

The Mississippi Economic Council has been the voice of Mississippi business since 1949. MEC deals with broad business issues through advocacy, research, resources and leadership. MEC has more than 10,000 members from 1,000 member firms in 2,400 locations throughout Mississippi. MEC’s mission is to be the leading force for business in Mississippi, by using factual, data-driven research to promote collaboration between top private and public sector leaders, develop feasible solutions for economic competitiveness, and effectively advocate proactive public policy to put Mississippi and her citizens in the place of greatest opportunity.

About Public Education Forum

The Public Education Forum is a non-profit, non-partisan education policy research group created by a broad cross-section of business, education and political leaders in Mississippi. Founded in 1989, the Forum is committed to being the leading independent force for public education in the state. The Mississippi Scholars and Tech Master Programs are managed by the Public Education Forum and began in 2003 and 2014 respectively.

About Woodward Hines Education Foundation

The Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) is committed to helping more Mississippians obtain postsecondary 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 its mission to support promising practices that lead to college persistence and completion. The foundation envisions a Mississippi where all people can secure the training and education beyond high school that will allow them to advance their quality of life, strengthen their communities, and contribute to a vibrant and prosperous future for the state.

Posted by Comms Department at Thursday, March 3, 2022

Announcing WHEF's 2021-2022 policy, advocacy, and research interns

October 22, 2021

Over the course of the internship, students will gain a deeper understanding of state and federal higher education policy and co-design and implement a research project focused on college access and college success in Mississippi. 


Nirmal Bhatt

Nirmal is a senior at Mississippi State University where he is majoring in Mechanical Engineering. On campus, he serves as vice president of the Speech and Debate Council and is project manager for the DOE Solar Decathlon team. Previously, he served as a governmental affairs intern for Trout Unlimited National.


MonYonna Braxton

MonYonna Braxton is a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi where she is majoring in Child and Family Sciences. As a McNair Scholar, she conducted research surrounding high school dropout rates among minority populations. MonYonna currently serves as her student government’s Director of Wellness and Safety and as president of Elevate, a student organization that provides mentorship to local middle school students.


Jorge "Andy" Flores

Jorge “Andy” Flores is a junior at the University of Mississippi where he is majoring in Public Policy Leadership and Philosophy. He serves as president of the First-Generation Student Network at the University of Mississippi, as vice chair of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, and as a travelling competitor on his university’s debate team.


Rabria Moore 

Rabria Moore is a junior at the University of Mississippi where she is majoring in Political Science and Journalism. Over the summer, she worked as a policy research analyst at the National Press Club where she researched and analyzed news to write op-eds for major newspapers and media outlets. Rabria is also a volunteer and blog writer for the Mississippi College Access Project.


Chrystle Rivers

Chrystle Rivers is a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi where she is majoring in Sociology. Chrystle is trained in qualitative research methods and is currently involved in research related to tabletop role-playing games. While majoring in sociology, Chrystle has an extensive background in theatre.

Posted by Comms Department at Thursday, October 21, 2021

New policy, advocacy, and research internship for Mississippi college students

Student Advocacy Corps 2021-2022

The Woodward Hines Education Foundation and Elucidata announce a hybrid internship opportunity for the 2021-2022 school year. WHEF and Elucidata are seeking five motivated undergraduate students with a strong interest in gaining policy, advocacy, and research experience related to higher education issues such as college access, affordability, and attainment. This opportunity is supported by a grant awarded by the National College Access Network. The internship will begin in October 2021 and continue into April 2022.

Internship Details

Over the course of the internship, students will:

  • - Gain a deeper understanding of state and federal higher education policy
  • - Co-design and implement a research project focused on college access and college success in Mississippi with support from researchers at Elucidata
  • - Gain research skills such as research design, writing, data collection, and data analysis
  • - Present research findings to relevant stakeholders such as elected officials and community members
  • - Develop policy and advocacy skills through training and education workshops
  • - Write at least one blog post on internship topics

Eligibility Details

  • - Applicants must: be currently enrolled in a Mississippi postsecondary education program; a resident of the state of Mississippi; age 18 or older; and identify as first in their family to go to college, a student of color, OR receive a Pell Grant.
  • - Adult students, students who have experienced foster care, and students who have experienced homelessness are encouraged to apply.
  • - Applicants must be able to commit 10-15 hours/month to the internship – including scheduled convenings as well as independent work.
  • - Most of the internship will be conducted virtually but occasionally there will be in-person advocacy events when necessary and safe to do so.
  • - Interns will receive a stipend of $750 and will receive reimbursements for documented expenses related to the work of the internship.

How to Apply

Interested candidates should email a resume and short answer response to Ainsley Ash at In no more than 500 words, please answer ONE of the following questions:

1) What do you think are the most significant barriers to college access and success, and why?

2) Who has been most impactful on your journey to and/or through college?

3) What are you most proud of?

Priority consideration will be given to applications received by Friday September 24th at 5pm.   

About the Woodward Hines Education Foundation WHEF is a non-profit working to help Mississippians plan and pay for college and be successful there. WHEF supports programs and grants focused on increasing college access and success that ultimately lead to meaningful employment. These initiatives have a specific focus on serving low-income, first-generation college students, or students of color – students who have historically been underrepresented in college or who have completed college at lower rates.

at Wednesday, September 15, 2021

What We're Reading Right Now: The Economics of Racial Equity

"The Business Case for Racial Equity: Mississippi"

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Ani Turner, Beth Beaudin-Seiler

September 2018

What would Mississippi’s economy look like if the racial equity gap did not exist? According to research from Ani Turner and Beth Beaudin-Seiler, the state would expect to see a $54 billion gain in economic output by 2050. The benefits would be immense - ranging from increased consumer spending and tax revenue to decreases in social services spending and medical care

Dive into the study here


Brookings Papers on Economic Activity

Shelby R. Buckman, Laura Y. Choi, Mary C. Daly, and Lily M. Seitelman

September 8, 2021

In the paper “The economic gains from equity,” four scholars set out to answer the question: “How much larger would the U.S. economic pie be if opportunities and outcomes were more equally distributed by race and ethnicity?” Shelby R. Buckman, Laura Y. Choi, Mary C. Dlay, and Lily M. Seitleman's research suggests that the economic potential would have been $22.9 trillion from 1990 to 2019, just thirty years. They explain, “The opportunity to participate in the economy and to succeed based on ability and effort is at the foundation of our nation and our economy. Unfortunately, structural barriers have persistently disrupted this narrative for many Americans, leaving the talents of millions of people underutilized or on the sidelines. The result is lower prosperity, not just for those affected, but for everyone.”

Read more about this innovative research here

at Friday, September 10, 2021

WHEF Announces $1 Million Grant Opportunity

The Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) has opened applications for a four-year, million-dollar grant opportunity in support of Mississippi’s newly established postsecondary attainment goal.

WHEF is an endowed Mississippi non-profit organization that has focused its efforts on promoting greater postsecondary access for more than 25 years. In 2016, WHEF expanded its mission to support improved persistence and completion outcomes for all Mississippi college students that lead to jobs providing individuals with family-sustaining wages.

Now, WHEF is seeking proposals from Mississippi organizations to identify a single grantee to coordinate the work needed for the state to reach the Ascent to 55% Statewide Attainment Goal.

In October 2020, Mississippi’s Education Achievement Council (EAC) passed a resolution to adopt a postsecondary attainment goal for the state of Mississippi. In that resolution, they established two goals:

By 2030, Mississippi will increase the postsecondary attainment of its workforce to 55%.

By 2035, Mississippi will increase the postsecondary attainment of its workforce to 60%.

“The Education Achievement Council believes that Ascent to 55% will serve as a North Star for Mississippi by aligning the practices and priorities of K-12 education, higher education, and business and industry,” said EAC Chair and Itawamba Community College President Dr. Jay Allen.

Dr. Allen continued, “On behalf of the EAC, we are excited to support this goal, but also know that Ascent to 55% will not be successful if it is our goal alone. Achieving a goal of this scale will require a commitment from parents, students, educators, community and state leaders, elected officials, and representatives from business and industry. We invite you to join us in creating a better, brighter Mississippi.”

“According to Georgetown University, it is estimated that 70% of all jobs will require some kind of postsecondary education. Currently, Mississippi sits at 44.4%,” said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. “In order to improve the lives of Mississippians and to strengthen our state’s 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 opened on August 8, 2021. An informational webinar for interested organizations will be hosted by WHEF on Monday, August 23 at 10 a.m. CST.  Applications are due Thursday, September 30th, and final decisions will be announced in December 2021.

“While increasing postsecondary educational attainment in the state is the responsibility of all Mississippi stakeholders, the selected organization will lead in the coordination of this effort,” said WHEF Program Officer Shanell Watson.

To obtain the official RFP, interested applicants may visit Questions about eligibility, the application process, or project components may be emailed to  

About Woodward Hines Education Foundation

The Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) is committed to helping more Mississippians obtain postsecondary 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. The foundation envisions a Mississippi where all people can secure the training and education beyond high school that will allow them to advance their quality of life, strengthen their communities, and contribute to a vibrant and prosperous future for the state.

About Mississippi Education Achievement Council

The Education Achievement Council was established by the Mississippi Legislature in 2010 for the purpose of sustaining attention to the state's goal of increasing the educational attainment and skill levels of the state's working-age population benchmark to the national average by 2025. The Council members are representatives of state government, public K-12 leaders, public, private and proprietary higher education officials and business community leaders. The Council is currently led by Dr. Jay Allen, President of Itawamba Community College.

Three New Members Elected to the WHEF Board of Directors

The Woodward Hines Education Foundation (WHEF) has elected three new members to the board of directors: Eddie Carlisle, Dr. Michael Cormack, and Dr. Regina Young Hyatt. These incoming leaders are preceded by retiring board member Stan Pratt who served as a board member for 14 years, alongside founders Jack Woodward and Herman Hines. WHEF recently recognized Pratt as Director Emeritus in recognition of his leadership and service.

“Our mission of increasing levels of postsecondary attainment among all Mississippians has never been more relevant or more important,” said WHEF President and CEO Jim McHale. “I am truly grateful to Michael, Eddie, and Regina for joining in our efforts. Together, they bring a tremendous amount of expertise, experience, passion, and knowledge that will provide guidance to WHEF as we continue our work.”

In addition to electing new board members, current board member John Hill, WealthPartners Founder and Managing Partner, has been elected to serve as Board Chair, replacing retired Attorney (Jones Walker, LLP) David Martin who had served as Board Chair since 2015. Board Member Nathan Slater, CSPIRE Vice President of Government and Educational Sales, will serve as Board Vice Chair.

Dr. Michael Cormack is Deputy Superintendent for the Jackson Public School (JPS) District. In this role, Dr. Cormack oversees the implementation of the district’s strategic plan. He directs and oversees the academic programs of the district to provide high-quality instruction, curriculum, and assessment for all students. Prior to joining JPS, Dr. Cormack served as Chief Executive Officer of the Barksdale Reading Institute, a statewide organization dedicated to improving early literacy through teacher development.

Dr. Cormack served as Principal of Quitman County Elementary School, where he raised student achievement from “at risk of failing” to “successful.” His transformative work was profiled in the New York Times bestselling memoir Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant.

He completed his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt University. He was selected as a Fellow of the America Achieves Program, and served on the boards of the Mississippi Children’s Museum and Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy.

Eddie Carlisle serves as Senior Advisor, Principal, and Chief Compliance Officer at Medley Brown Financial Advisors. He holds a BSBA in Accounting with special distinction from Mississippi College, a Master of Laws in taxation from the University of Florida, and a JD From Vanderbilt University. Prior to joining Medley Brown, he was in private law practice with the firms of Watkins & Eager, PLLC; and Daniel Coker Horton & Bell, PA.

Carlisle is an Eagle Scout and now serves as an adult leader for Scout Troop 164 in Madison. He is a past board member of Hope Hollow Ministries, the Central Mississippi Down Syndrome Society, and the Mississippi Corporate Counsel Association.

Dr. Regina Young Hyatt was named the first female Vice President for Student Affairs at Mississippi State University (MSU). In her role, she provides leadership and vision for the Division of Student Affairs, and strategic planning and programming to support student success outcomes and enrollment outcomes. She oversees areas including the Office of the Dean of Students, health services, assessment and testing services, dining, housing, recreational sports, the MSU bookstore, and the Student Honor Code Office.

Prior to joining MSU, Dr. Young Hyatt served as Dean of Students at the University of Alabama, Huntsville; Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Life at the University of South Florida; and as Associate and Assistant Director of Student Activities at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

Her professional involvement has included serving as chairperson of the Board of Directors for the National Association for Campus Activities. She has also held leadership positions with the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. Her doctoral work was completed at the University of South Florida in Higher Education Administration.

Posted by Courtney Lange at Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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 Comms Department 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