MEC Public Education Forum Receives $1 Million Grant from Woodward Hines Education Foundation

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%--was awarded to the Public Education Forum (PEF), a non-profit education and public policy research group at MEC Capital Day 2022. PEF is a subsidiary of the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC).

Hundreds of business and community leaders and statewide elected officials attended MEC Capital Day at the Mississippi Trade Mart on March 3.

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.”

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