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 Ainsley Ash at 3:15 PM