Promoting College Access and Success in Partnership with a Community Foundation

Q&A with Ashley Kryscynski of Washtenaw Futures College Access Network 

Community Foundations are natural constituents of Local College Access Networks. They seek to improve the quality of life for all residents in a community, and typically promote educational advancement of students by managing a variety of scholarship programs. However what’s not so typical, is for a community foundation to align its scholarship funding language and efforts with that of an LCAN’s college access and success goals, and to pool money into a broad, new scholarship program. Fortunately for the students of Washtenaw County, that is exactly what happened in their community. 

For this Spotlight, MCAN interviewed Washtenaw Futures College Access Network Coordinator Ashley Kryscynski, to discuss the new Community Scholarship Program and Level the Playing Field Fund offered through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation

Q: Please describe the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation’s new Community Scholarship Program and Level the Playing Field Fund.

A: "The new Community Scholarship Program serves students from one or more of the following target populations in Washtenaw County, which also are target populations for Washtenaw Futures: (1) students from low-income families; (2) students of color; and/or (3) first-generation college students – meaning neither parent holds a college degree. The Level the Playing Field Fund is part of the Community Scholarship Program, and was made possible through a significant, anonymous donation. The fund requires that students have financial need and gives preference to students from the local public school systems. It also assigns each scholarship recipient with a College Success Coach." 

Q: What gave the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation the idea for its new Community Scholarship Program?

A: "In 2014, AAACF President and CEO Neel Hajra (who sits on the Washtenaw Futures Leadership Team) and his board wanted to think about how they could align their efforts to support college access and attainment with Washtenaw Futures’ and MCAN's goals. The Community Foundation was managing 45 scholarships that were available to students entering or already enrolled in college. However, through active engagement with Washtenaw Futures, they really understood that unaffordability after freshman year and lack of understanding how to navigate the college culture, were big barriers to college persistence and completion." 

Q: What prompted the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to align its scholarship funding language to that of Washtenaw Futures? How did Washtenaw Futures help facilitate this change?

 "AAACF has always had a focus on supporting the needs of our community and deeply understands their role in improving the quality of life for all residents in Washtenaw County. I think this particular alignment stemmed from our Washtenaw Futures Leadership Team digging into local disaggregated data and then having intense conversations around the many barriers to not only accessing college, but also completing it. 

The Community Foundation recognized that, across the board, it already does a great job of sending students to college; however, once they looked more deeply into the data, they saw that many students are not persisting or completing – especially low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color. As a community that is focused on equity, this glaring disparity is impossible to ignore. Washtenaw Futures became a partner in helping the AAACF navigate conversations, more deeply understand the issue and barriers, and recommend ways in which a scholarship program can highly impact the lives of local students."

Q: Tell us about the College Success Coach pilot program and its goals.

A: "All recipients of AAACF’s Level the Field Playing Fund will have a College Success Coach through Washtenaw Futures. The Success Coach will assist in supporting a student’s transition to higher education, help students to access the many opportunities available on their college campuses, as well as serve as a general resource for students throughout their college experience.   

The idea for the College Success Coach stemmed from knowledge that first-generation, low-income students and students of color often face difficulty in understanding how to navigate the college culture. The concept is based on our existing College Coaching Corps partnership with Eastern Michigan University. Persisting through college takes more than just having the financial means, and so AAACF's Community Scholarship Program opens the door to financial, social, and academic support for students who, as indicated in data, struggle the most in college.

With funding from AAACF and Washtenaw Community College, Washtenaw Futures will manage and oversee the College Success Coach position; Washtenaw Community College will be the backbone organization for the position; and Eastern Michigan University will provide training and the applicant pool."

Q: Will the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation’s more specific, pre-existing college scholarships continue to be offered in addition to the new Level the Playing Field Fund?

A: "Yes, the Level the Playing Field Fund will go toward supporting and expanding the Community Scholarship Program, and then the other 45 more specific scholarships will continue to be offered. The most significant change in how the AAACF manages their scholarship programming will be that they will no longer accept funds for new specific scholarships; rather donors will be encouraged to establish named funds within the Community Scholarship Fund or make contributions to existing funds, like the Level the Playing Field Fund."

Q: How does involvement of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation help bring attention to, and advance the efforts of Washtenaw Futures?

A: "I think AAACF’s involvement bringing attention to and advancing our efforts has been a tremendous help! It shines a spotlight on the fact that not all students in Washtenaw County are attending college (a very common misconception in a community with several colleges and universities). It also highlights that the path of getting to and completing college is incredibly challenging and complicated. Despite what many people think, Washtenaw County also is home to many students living in poverty, students who have never been to a college campus, and students whose parents have never been to college or whose parents started and never completed a program. These students are often overlooked because of the prestigious awards and recognition our community receives, but they absolutely still need our support. The new scholarship program reminds our community that our work is not done."

Q: What steps do you recommend for other Local College Access Networks that may seek to form a similar alliance with their community foundations, and that want to broaden local college scholarship opportunities that better encourage access and persistence?

A: "I think communities are oftentimes so focused on building a scholarship program like the Kalamazoo Promise, that there’s a “go big or go home” mentality. We tend to worry that we can’t do everything all at once, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something we can do in the meantime. This Community Scholarship Program is a building block for our community that already has caused us to think differently, shift the conversation, and start finding out what works for us while directly impacting students."


Author: Sarah Anthony
Posted: May 25, 2016

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