Michigan's College Access Blog

Most college-bound students don't apply to enough colleges

Originally published in Bridge Magazine, January 6, 2014

Your recent article in Bridge Magazine on college admissions and the increasing number of college applications suggests that submitting a high number of college applications is the norm for today’s high school students, however the data compiled by the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) shows otherwise. MCAN’s mission is to increase college readiness, participation and completion in Michigan, and to ultimately increase the percentage of Michigan residents with a high-quality degree or credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.

After completing Michigan’s fourth College Application Week last month at high schools across the state, our data shows participating students apply to 1.25 colleges on average. Just under 34,000 applications were submitted by nearly 27,000 high school seniors during this year’s College Application Week efforts, with 43 percent of participating high school seniors indicating that it was their first time submitting a college application. 

CAW Bridge

Additionally, 31 percent of participating high school seniors indicated they will be the first in their family to attend college. This data is based upon 271 high schools and career tech centers that reported their participation in the Michigan College Access Network’s (MCAN) College Application Week. Data from previous College Application Week efforts in 2011-1013 also shows this trend has held true. The American College Application Campaign has found similar results year to year with participating students completing an average of 1.44 college applications.

MCAN hosts Michigan College Application Week to give all students access to help with the college application process. For many students the application process can be cumbersome or confusing. Too often students do not apply to college because they don’t understand the college-going process. We’re dedicated to helping all students navigate this process, but especially students who statistically face more obstacles in their paths to college, including minority, low-income and first generation college students.

Michigan College Application Week gives these students the tools to learn how to properly apply to different institutions and find financial aid. It also provides crucial support throughout this important step in a student’s career.

While there has been a rise in the number of college applications submitted in our state, we can’t assume this rise is due to each student applying to 10 or more colleges. MCAN’s efforts to aid low-income and minority students with their college applications can explain the rise as well. Students who might not have applied to college otherwise are now realizing the importance of a college education and looking to their high school staff to work with them to complete and submit their applications successfully.

Rather than focusing on the number of applications students are submitting, we should be stressing the importance of a community helping students find the resources they need to decide which college is the best match and fit for them.

It’s clear that obtaining a college degree can provide countless career opportunities, including higher salaries and a better chance for upward mobility. No student should be denied the opportunity to get a college degree. As a state, we need to make sure we are doing all we can to make college an opportunity for all by providing our students with the tools to take that important first step – submitting a college application.

Originally published in Bridge Magazine, January 6, 2014.

Brandy Johnson headshot 2013Author: Brandy Johnson, excutive director of the Michigan College Access Network

Posted: January 7, 2014

Happy New Year from MCAN

Best wishes for a wonderful new year!

As we enter the new year, we can't help but look back on some of the exciting and new accomplishments that happened at MCAN in 2014. It was a busy year for our organization and staff. We are excited to see what 2015 brings!

In 2014, the MCAN staff:

And that's not all! Watch for our annual report to be released in March, where we will share more about our 2014 accomplishments. To everyone who has dedicated their time, energy and support, we at the Michigan College Access Network thank you.

MCAN staff: Brandy, Christi, Jamie, Michelle, Ryan and Sarah

Posted: January 6, 2014

College Lingo: How we define "college" impacts our community culture

Collective Impact Spotlight

Communication is all around us and has been at the core of how humans interact since the beginning of time. The words and images we choose to define college and communicate its importance matter.

I repeat. The words we choose matter.

Too often we conflate the word "college" with "university" and through this process we alienate those that are in fact college-bound. A postsecondary educational program that results in a valuable credential is precisely the definition of "college." Students that pursue education beyond high school are going to college -- whether they are pursuing an engineering degree from Michigan State University or an aviation certificate from Northwestern Michigan College.

Spokane Public Schools in Spokane County, Washington took on the task of redefining "college" by launching their T-2-4 campaign. Most recently they released a music video to help educate the community through song. It's a fun way to reinforce how Spokane defines "college" and celebrate all choices.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.07.21 PM

Rap group Level Ground tackles the concept of T-2-4. The song elevates Spokane Public Schools' dedication to preparing students to successfully move to and through some form of higher education, whether it's technical, 2-year or 4-year.

Are you ready? Then let's get in and make it through. I'm going to a T-2-4 (Technical, two-year, 4-year or the Military)


MCAN's staff and board have engaged in a similar process. We don't have a fun music video (although the ideas are turning in our heads...) but we do have a strong vision and values statement. About two years ago our board and staff met at great length and discussed what we mean when we say "college." We were very careful and thoughtful when crafting our values statements. It's not a coincidence that the first value statement we discussed and now list defines the term "college".

  • College is postsecondary education: MCAN uses the term "college" to refer to the attainment of valuable postsecondary credentials beyond high school, including professional/technical certificates and academic degrees.
  • College is a necessity: Postsecondary education is a prerequisite to success in a knowledge-based economy. Everyone must pursue and complete a postsecondary credential or degree beyond high school.
  • College is for everyone: The postsecondary education attainment rates among low-income students and students of color are significantly lower than those of other students. MCAN is committed to closing these gaps.
  • College is a public good: Postsecondary educational opportunity and attainment are critical to a just and equitable society, strong economy, and healthy communities.

Why not just say "postsecondary education?" MCAN embraces the term "college" to elevate quality postsecondary degrees and credentials. Also postsecondary education is a clunky 22-letter phrase that doesn't easily roll off your tongue. It sounds intimidating and isn't easily embraced by the general public.

It's critical Local College Access Networks take the time to discuss how they define college, but coming to an agreement is not the ultimate goal. The LCAN leadership needs to embrace the definition and regularly utilize the language when talking about college. Be the leading voice to redefine college in your community.

In our last Spotlight we shared how West Ottawa Public Schools has seen a dramatic shift in their college-going culture. At the core of that shift is the district embracing their mission and ensuring every student, parent and staff member understands the mission and what it means when someone says "college."

How is your community defining college and making sure your definition is widely heard and understood? Share your community definition on our LinkedIn page here.

For more information on how communication impacts your college access efforts head to the MCAN website to download our guidebook, Charting the Course: A community's guide for increasing educational attainment through the lens of collective impact, and our Communication Toolkit.

Lisa King headshot 2013Author: Lisa King, public relations consultant for the Michigan College Access Network

Posted: December 17, 2014

Preparing for FAFSA Season

1403048887 budget invetigation - CopyWith the approach of the holidays, we're seeing college application season start to wrap up – but that doesn't mean we're off the hook! The new year brings another application season, this one around financial aid, because January 1 is when students can begin filling out the FAFSA. It is so important that seniors know exactly how to approach this important step. Rallying around college applications is fantastic, but if a student does not know how to pull down the financial resources needed to pay for college, it is likely they won't attend at all.

Although it has gotten easier to file than in previous years, filling out the FAFSA can still be an intimidating process, and trying to determine the best types of financial aid can definitely be confusing for students. Thankfully there are a variety of resources dedicated to helping students navigate this process, and to helping service providers guide their students through the FAFSA application and the larger conversations about financial literacy. To name a few:

  • Wells Fargo has done a series of webinars around this topic, all of which are recorded and available on our website.
  • MI College Goal brings together financial aid experts to guide students and families through every step of completing the FAFSA.
  • The FAFSA4caster helps students estimate their anticipated student aid
  • Khan Academy has an entire series of lessons dedicated to paying for college

College-Cash-Campaign-logo-for-webThese are just some of the available resources, which illustrates the significant need for assistance around FAFSA completion. This is why MCAN is excited to announce a new statewide initiative for 2015: the inaugural College Cash Campaign that will run from February 1 to April 30. The goal of the Michigan College Cash Campaign is to encourage a school-wide rally around FAFSA completion as part of the suite of statewide initiatives that helps students navigate the college-going process during their senior year. We are asking schools who sign up as host sites to commit to three things:

  1. Set a big goal around FAFSA completion and measure and celebrate progress toward this goal in a school-wide FAFSA campaign
  2. Participate in name-by-name FAFSA lookups
  3. Submit a video and application to the First Lady's FAFSA Completion Challenge for an opportunity to host Michelle Obama as their school's commencement speaker

In return for these commitments, MCAN will provide TA and support around the FAFSA form including a 3 hours in-depth FAFSA training provided by national college affordability training experts uAspire on January 29th, 2015 in Lansing, Michigan, access to a variety of resources including a best practices listesrv and name-by-name FAFSA completion data, and mini-grants to schools who perform especially well in their campaigns. For more information or to sign up as a host site visit the College Cash Campaign web page.

We are so excited to see how this campaign plays out in our schools! Some bold goals will be set in the next few weeks but I know from working closely with many of our Michigan high schools that students, staff, and administration will rise to the challenge and tackle the FAFSA head on.

Christ Taylor headshot 2013Author: Christi Taylor, director of statewide initiatives and strategic partnership for the Michigan College Access Network

Posted: December 15, 2014

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