What Works in Mississippi

May 21st, 2015

As a state, Mississippi faces significant challenges from high levels of unemployment to low levels of education. There are several individuals and groups working tirelessly to create a brighter future for everyone. We have become very good at describing the issues that we face, but are often at a loss when it comes to highlighting solutions. MEPC wants to change that.

“What Works in Mississippi” is blog series that will highlight current issues faced by working Mississippians, but, more importantly, highlight the good work being done to address those challenges. The ultimate hope is that this blog series can help grow our collective capacity to positively affect lives in our state and continue to spur innovative, creative solutions to some of Mississippi’s most challenging problems.

Womens-Foundation-reversed-redOur first group to highlight is the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi. The Women’s Foundation is a grant making and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of Mississippi’s women and families. Among the Women’s Foundation vast work, is their support for the Hinds Community College’s partnership with Single Stop USA program. Single Stop is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping low-income individuals achieve financial self-sufficiency and economic mobility. Data has shown that students using Single Stop’s services have higher graduation rates. In Mississippi, our 4-year graduation rate is 49.8% while our 2-year graduation rate is 24.2%.

Latisha photo 2015To learn more about the success of this program, we interviewed Latisha Latiker, Program Officer with the Women’s Foundation. During the interview, she discussed the challenges that led to Single Stop’s creation, how the national Single Stop model has had to contextualize itself to fit within a more rural setting, and the many impacts and collaborations that the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi has helped create.

 

  1. What was the impetus behind creating program (whichever one you choose to highlight)? What specific lack of resources or needs weren’t being met?

Access to post-secondary education is one of the most effective strategies to lift families out of poverty and into jobs. The Women’s Foundation of Mississippi (WFM) is focusing on grant making to community colleges because low-income single mothers beginning or returning to higher education overwhelmingly choose to pursue their goals at community colleges. Despite the large number of women enrolled in community colleges statewide, community colleges struggle with how to increase the low completion rates of female students. The Access to Opportunity grant program is a first step in a long-term project to increase the community college success rate (defined by persistence and completion rates) and, as a result, the economic security of low income women enrolled in and graduating from community college.

  1. What hurdles did you have to overcome in order to see this program get off of the ground?

Single Stop had to develop a new understanding of service volume in community college campuses located in non-urban settings. Notably, the majority of Single Stop’s existing community college sites are located in cities ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau as having the heaviest population density such as New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston. The populations of these communities range from 8.3 million in New York City to 625,000 in Boston. Hinds Community College, on the other hand, draws approximately 12,000 students from more than 70 Mississippi counties to its six locations. Jackson, the largest city in Mississippi, has 172,638 residents in an area of 106.8 square miles. Single Stop USA had to adjust the scope of their work to fit a primarily rural state verses largely populated urban areas. Hinds has highlighted the importance of relationship building and face-to-face interactions when launching Single Stop in a rural setting. The idea of Single Stop was also new to the community college system. Community colleges had to be convinced to invest their time and resources into the project.

  1. Are you impacting the communities that initially hoped to impact? Where do you see your services being needed most? What needs are still unmet?

In 2014, Single Stop sites at Hinds Community College connected clients to resources valued at $217,218. The majority of Single Stop households at Hinds reporting income were below $15,000. Out of these Single Stop students at Hinds, approximately 67% were women. Out of those who provided information, 61% of them live in households with children. Also, 39% of these female students reported that they were employed at least part-time during their school attendance. Importantly, the partnership of the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi allowed Single Stop to launch the first demonstration of its service model outside of a large urban setting. Through this experience, Single Stop has gained important insights into how to scale its model more effectively in areas with lower population density and to tailor services for these communities. Several lessons learned at Hinds will prove crucial for Single Stop as it expands into non-urban geographies and service delivery to additional populations. The supports that Single Stop clients received included food and transportation subsidies, tax preparation, and health care. Over $60,470 in EITC benefits were provided.

Students were able to remain in school due to the services provided by Single Stop. There is a need for the services of Single Stop to be replicated at the other 14 community colleges in Mississippi. Research has shown and proven women persist and graduate from community colleges at higher rates and in less time when they have access to support/wrap around services such as the ones provided by Single Stop.

  1. Did you collaborate with other groups/organizations in creating this program? If so, how important have you found that collaboration to be?

The Foundation has worked closely with the Mississippi Community College Board (MCCB). The Board has made WFM aware of the nuances of working with low-income women attending community college. The Board also gave the Foundation access to community college administrators as well as college staff and students for the completion of the IWPR/WFM report.

President Clyde Muse’s firm belief in the Single Stop initiative has been demonstrated through the opening of three sites within a seven-month period and the convening of 27 institutional leaders to participate in trainings. President Muse also utilized state funding for student dropout prevention and recruited a key individual funder to open these additional sites. State-level community college leaders and local funders have taken note of Hinds’ commitment—a fact that bodes well for ongoing expansion discussions in Mississippi.

  1. What are the key ingredients that allow your programs to work? What do you need in order to see them thrive?

Support, commitment, and buy-in from the Hinds Community College administration coupled with the services provided by Single Stop are allowing for the program to thrive. The program has proven to be successful in a short amount of time, which serves as a good indicator of replication from the other 14 community colleges in Mississippi. We need more support and resources from the state, the MCCB and the administrations from the other 14 community colleges for the program to thrive statewide and to have its deepest impact.

If you know of a program or organization that is moving Mississippi forward, email us at info@mepconline.org or connect with us via social media using #WhatWorksMS.