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UM Awarded $400K Grant to Bolster College Completion Efforts

The University of Mississippi has received nearly $400,000 from a Mississippi nonprofit to further support the university’s college retention, persistence and completion endeavors.

 The University of Mississippi will use its grant from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation to establish an integrated Improving Mississippi’s Persistence and Completion Together program. The goal is to improve rates of college completion at Mississippi’s universities. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The $399,979 grant from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation is part of the Jackson-based nonprofit’s Improving Mississippi’s Persistence and Completion Together, or IMPACT, initiative.

The university will use the grant to establish an integrated IMPACT program that will help it work toward increasing student degree completion.

“We are grateful to the Woodward Hines Education Foundation for their support of this incredibly important initiative,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “The ultimate beneficiaries are the students.

“Student retention and student success have been important initiatives at our university for many years, and this support will enhance our activities and enable us to take those efforts to the next level.”

The university has one of the highest first-time, full-time student retention rates in the country for a public institution, with an 86.8% freshmen retention rate in 2019, based on the 2018 cohort. The rate was a historical high for the Oxford campus.

The university’s six-year graduation rate is 65.8%, based on the 2013 cohort.

“With support from Woodward Hines, the University of Mississippi is establishing an IMPACT program that will support a peer mentoring program, engaged learning opportunity grants and completion grants directed by our Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement,” said Rich Forgette, associate provost and political science professor.

“The university is also investing in student-success coaches and software tools through the university’s Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience.”

UM is among six Mississippi public universities whose students will benefit from the five-year commitment from the foundation, an endowed Mississippi nonprofit organization that has promoted increased postsecondary access among a diverse student population for nearly 25 years. Recently, the foundation 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-19, the need has never been greater and more pressing,” said Jim McHale, the foundation’s president and CEO. “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.”

Besides the grants, Woodward Hines Education Foundation also is supporting biennial IMPACT gatherings for all the state’s public, four-year institutions. The goal is to create a Mississippi-specific, facilitated community of practice for the exchange of findings, insights and ideas.

The foundation also plans to provide coordinated access to programs that could provide quality professional development opportunities for faculty and staff at these institutions, innovations in data collection and usage, and 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 Shanell Watson, the foundation’s program officer and IMPACT project lead. “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.”

Other state universities receiving the competitive grants, which totaled $1.95 million, are Delta State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women, Mississippi Valley State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

To help support further investment in student success and completion at Ole Miss, contact Katie Morrison, director of foundation relations, at katie@olemiss.edu or 662-915-2135.

By Shea Stewart

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