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Black History Month: Learning History in its 'Fullest Context'

Last year I wrote a blog post for MCAN called “A Brick in the Foundation of Equity,” in which I spoke about the institution of Black History Month as an important milestone in the world of college access – it serves as a precedent to hold departments of education accountable at both state and national levels. In 2020, I honor this educational landmark by sharing history, both on a personal and cultural level, reminding everyone that there is still considerable work to be done.

A 2019 article in the New York Times by civics reporter Keith Meatto compiled a list of resources that reveal a harrowing fact about the state of American Education: schooling is still separate and unequal; years after 1954 and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, when the Supreme Court unanimously decided that such a reality is unconstitutional and therefore illegal.

This reminds me of my junior year at Michigan State University in 2005, when I signed up for the course Historical Approach to Contemporary Issues. In that process, I tracked down the professor my mother implored me to seek out if he hadn’t already retired. This man and future mentor of mine, Dr. Richard Thomas, had been her professor years before when she was a first-generation college student at MSU. He would become one of the greatest influences in shaping the man I became. I recognize the inherent privilege that comes with being a second-generation student. However, Dr. Thomas’ presence helped my development as a college-going Black man and shared wisdom that I could pay forward to the next generation of college-going students of color.

Having Dr. Thomas as a mentor meant having a trusted adviser who not only looked like me, but who also grew up in my same hometown of Detroit. Black students often find themselves at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) facing a dearth of faculty invested in their success. That, paired with a multitude of other adverse obstacles, can be directly linked to lack of African-American student retention at many of these colleges. When I found myself on the cusp of flunking out of MSU, I had someone who could motivate me to keep fighting and stay focused. That led to me making the honor roll for the first time — two months after approaching Dr. Thomas to talk about my academic standing.

But most importantly, Dr. Thomas taught me about the importance of history and to always have proper context when discussing my worldview. In his same class, I would learn more about Brown vs. Board than I had ever been taught in my high school classroom. I learned the name of Charles H. Houston, a pioneer in law who for 25 years, created litigation strategies aimed at racial housing covenants and segregated schools. He trained a litany of young lawyers (including future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall) on how to create a compendium of cases that would successfully dismantle the legal theory set in Plessy v. Ferguson.

Those crucial lessons helped me solidify why college was important. College was where I learned about a lot of Black History for the first time. It made me wonder how many Black students would graduate without having the opportunity to learn about our collective past because of how deeply the practice of integration has been compromised — despite 66 years since the Supreme Court decided “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

This thought renews my faith in MCAN’s mission to increase college readiness and participation for all Michigan students, the work of AdviseMI advisers who maximize college-going opportunities for young people, and the work of dedicated schools that partner with AdviseMI. Because of these efforts, more students will have the chance to learn their history in its fullest context, regardless of race or background.

Author: Jahshua Smith, AdviseMI supervisor, Metro Detroit
Posted: Feb. 11, 2020

College Cash Campaign: An Adviser's Perspective

College adviser Stephanie Sustaita writes about the importance of the Michigan College Cash Campaign and her challenges and successes with the initiative, while serving in the AdviseMI program at Lakeville Memorial High School.

The goal of the College Cash Campaign Initiative is to raise awareness about financial aid – specifically, filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and applying for scholarships. Students often feel a sense of relief when they learn about available financial aid. Many of the students I serve come from low-income families. These students tend to limit their educational goals because they believe they cannot afford to attend a postsecondary institution. This is simply not true. After I inform my students that they could potentially be awarded a Federal Pell Grant and other forms of aid if they file the FAFSA, a world of possibilities opens up for them. The myth of a college education being unattainable is proven wrong. In turn, students pursue a college education.

Another program that I like to educate my students about is the Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) and other MI Student Aid programs. The beauty of these programs is that some are stackable, which means the aid can be used with other forms of financial assistance. Many times students are not only concerned about tuition, but also worry about living expenses. When a TIP-eligible student learns about their eligibility for fully-paid tuition at a community college or Phase I institution, and the possibility of Pell Grant funds being returned to them after TIP is applied to their bill, it makes a world of difference for the student’s financial situation.

Though there are many resources available to students, a challenge is that some simply refuse to file FAFSA. They hold the belief that if they attend college, outstanding debt is inevitable. This has been especially difficult this year; many of my students are entering the workforce immediately after they graduate. Many of them take this path in hopes of avoiding student debt. Many parents also question whether their children should apply for the FAFSA, because they hold a similar notion that college is not for everyone and not attainable for students from low-income households. During these situations, I appreciate the training AdviseMI and Michigan College Access Network has provided to advisers. I am able to educate and inform families about the importance of filing the FAFSA, gaining a better education, and reassure them that it is possible to graduate college without accumulating massive student debt.

The Genesee County Career and College Access Network (GC3AN), the community of Lakeville, AdviseMI adviser Jordan Barnes (serving at Bentley and Genesee High Schools) and myself continue to promote the College Cash Campaign and diligently educate Genesee County students and their families about the importance of financial aid and postsecondary education. By hosting a county-wide financial aid workshop, we hope to provide families with the opportunity to file FAFSA, learn about the resources available and provide a space to ask questions about their specific situations. We understand how crucial the financial aid process is for students and how a lack of knowledge can deter them from postsecondary education. For this reason, College Cash Campaign is a such an important incentive that has the ability to change lives.

Author: Stephanie Sustaita, AdviseMI adviser
Posted: Jan. 30, 2020

Top 19 Accomplishments in 2019

Season's greetings and happy New Year! Last night brought the end of a decade and the beginning of a new one. MCAN already has ambitious plans for 2020, but first we'd like to pause and reflect on our top 19 college access and attainment successes that happened in the last year.

In 2019, MCAN:

  1. Received a three-year $1.35 million grant from The Kresge Foundation to support our work and launch new initiatives;
  2. Awarded $929,000 in grants to 41 organizations across the state;
  3. Hosted 125 key stakeholders in the MIHEART Talent Summit;
  4. Empowered 56 college advisers to serve through the AdviseMI program;
  5. Engaged 343 high schools in the College Bound Michigan Initiatives;
  6. Celebrated the receipt of a $150,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation;
  7. Offered professional development to 635 people at the 2019 MCAN Annual Conference;
  8. Monitored 15 House and Senate bills proposed by the State of Michigan legislature;
  9. Adopted the governor's new Sixty by 30 goal;
  10. Hired 1 new executive director;
  11. Trained 56 LCAN colleagues at our combined Maritime Academy and coached 27 Local College Access Networks in their collective impact work;
  12. Awarded more than 11,000 SCECHs earned through training opportunities;
  13. Broadcast 2 videos by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer about college attainment;
  14. Engaged over 100 attendees representing 23 school-based teams at the inaugural Michigan Postsecondary Strategy Institute;
  15. Served 18,053 students through AdviseMI in the 2018-19 program year and connected with 129 AdviseMI alumni as a network;
  16. Established a 75% FAFSA completion goal for 2020;
  17. Honored 11 leaders with College Access Impact Awards;
  18. Organized 15 different events; and
  19. Hosted 99 individuals for our third annual College Access Advocacy Day.

MCAN's annual report will be released this spring and provide a more in-depth review of the year. Thank you to all of the phenomenal college access and attainment leaders who support MCAN and help improve the future of Michigan students. We can't wait to work with you in 2020!

Author: Ryan Fewins-Bliss, MCAN executive director

Posted: Jan. 1, 2020

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