Michigan's College Access Blog

Fostering Care and Education

LCAN Spotlight: College and Career Action Network

May is National Foster Care month, “a month set aside to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections,” according to Childwelfare.gov. Nearly 400,000 children and youth are in foster care, yet a mere 2-4 percent will obtain a bachelor’s degree (Casey Family programs, 2010). This sobering statistic is one reason that MCAN is especially pleased to highlight the efforts of the College and Career Action Network, which strives to connect with foster youth in Kalamazoo County, and has made great strides in supporting their paths to achieving a postsecondary education.CACANlogo

Brenda Pickett, a convener for CACAN, always had a “soft spot” for foster kids. As a retired elementary principal, she knew foster students’ special needs were not being met by many school districts. Approximately five years ago, Pickett learned that the office for a statewide initiative, Fostering Success Michigan, would be housed at nearby Western Michigan University. She immediately made a connection with FSM’s Director of Outreach and Training Maddy Day, and included her as a voice in CACAN’s efforts. This collaboration led to greater training of school counselors, and increased resources to assist foster care youth.

Because CACAN is part of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Services Agency, it has access to school counselors from throughout Kalamazoo County. CACAN regularly meets with the counselors, and hosts county-wide professional development for all staff members who work with youth. Some of the training sessions focus on topics such as how to work with foster youth; youth trauma; and general obstacles experienced by students in foster care. Day frequently serves as a presenter at the professional development sessions. “The counselor to student ratio is difficult,” says Pickett. “We found that by better educating counselors [on how to support students who have experienced foster care], they become equipped with the knowledge to support these students.”

When asked about whether CACAN’s outreach has increased college access for foster care students, Pickett says that Tuition Incentive Program dollars have doubled and tripled at local Kalamazoo Valley Community College. The college boasts a Student Success Center, which was formed to provide extra assistance to students who may struggle with postsecondary education. This is especially helpful to foster care youth. Additionally, the Seita Scholars Program at Western Michigan University provides specific support to foster youth who are students, in the form of intense academic support, financial resources, education and training vouchers, and support for social and emotional success. It’s apparent that institutions of higher education in Kalamazoo County have identified a need to support foster care students who are in matriculation.

CACAN, the Student Success Center, and Seita Scholars Program provide examples of the comprehensive efforts needed to support at-risk foster youth on their path to attaining postsecondary education. And that’s fortunate, because “social and emotional well being are the biggest barriers to foster youth obtaining a college education,” says Pickett.

Local College Access Networks wishing to increase their support of foster care students should start by sharing training opportunities and resources with school counselors and social workers. Fostering Success Michigan regularly offers webinars and resources for free. Additionally, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has education planners, who serve 38 counties and provide one-on-one assistance to youth in foster care. The planners are available to conduct presentations and training on policy requirements and the specific educational needs of older youth in foster care.

LCANs also should expand their networks by including all stakeholders with a vested interest in foster care youth, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, Communities and Schools, Promise Zone representatives, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, community foundations, local university and college representatives, and other professionals associated with foster care.

“Listen to people. Brainstorm together,” says Pickett. Clearly, her strategies work. CACAN has a captive audience of vested community members who continually strive to support and improve the educational outcomes for foster care youth in Kalamazoo County.


Lisa King headshot 2013Posted: May 13, 2015

Author: Lisa King, MCAN consultant

Achieving the Dream, Part 3

Jackson College: Increasing Retention Rates of Students of Color

This blog is the third installment in a four-part series that highlights the work of colleges that received an Achieving the Dream grant from the Michigan College Access Network to assist with creating, expanding and sustaining research-based interventions that help more students, particularly low-income students and students of color, persist through degree completion. To view the first blog post in the series, click here. Second blog, click here.

The Jackson College Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength programs are initiatives that focus on increasing engagement and retention rates of students of color. The programs were started in fall 2008 and fall 2009, respectively. They have experienced tremendous success; and average fall to winter retention rates at the college are above 85 percent.  

Jackson College Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength participants

The Jackson College Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength programs have a strong mentoring component, which is an essential part of the programs. A three-pronged mentoring approach is utilized:

  1. Students are mentored by successful leaders in the Jackson community, many of whom are persons of color, have come from similar backgrounds, and successfully overcome many of the challenges that the students regularly face.  
  2. Students have peer-to-peer mentoring. Examples include students who check on each other to make sure they are attending class, and those who are skilled in certain subjects help those who may be weaker in those areas. 
  3. Students mentor young people within the Jackson community. They often speak at schools about the critical importance of education.

The Sisters of Strength program and the Men of Merit program provide meetings once a week for an hour. Presentations are given at the meetings by a community leader mentoring the students. The programs follow a curriculum that includes topics such as: How to Develop Networking Skills, Financial Literacy, Dressing for Success at Interviews, Healthy Relationships, Goal Setting and many other essential topics.

There is an annual National Leadership trip that students take. During the trip, students attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities, visit historical landmarks in the respective areas, and attend a National Leadership Institute where they receive leadership training.  

During the 2014-2015 leadership trip, students visited Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. They visited the Martin Luther King Jr. museum and birth home, as well as the National Civil Rights Museum. Students spoke at an elementary school, and during the Leadership Institute, national leaders presented to the students and inspired them by addressing leadership, professional excellence, and high achievement.   

Students in the programs often connect with community leaders regarding matters of problem solving. They address issues regarding law enforcement relationships with the black community, health care issues, and voter registration. They assist with community clean-up efforts and help increase educational awareness in the Jackson community. The students serve as leaders on campus, in the community, and even nationally.

After development of the Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength programs, Jackson College conducted research and found the students of color needed a place to go on campus to connect and engage. In 2013, the Multicultural Center was opened, which increased student engagement and played a critical role in assisting with retention rates. The center averages 300-400 visits per month. Thanks to the programs and availability of the Multicultural Center, on-campus engagement and retention of students of color has gone up significantly.

The next step in Jackson College’s effort to improve retention rates for students of color is a commitment to increase the scope of Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength programs. Currently, the groups average 35-50 students per semester. The goal is to double that within two years. Additionally,

Jackson College has developed a Males of Color assessment tool to strengthen the college’s understanding of every enrolled male of color. The goal is to lead and guide them to the Men of Merit program, and increase overall retention rates. There is a plan to develop a similar assessment tool for the Sisters of Strength program in the upcoming year.  

Jackson College is deeply committed to the success of all students - especially students of color and first-generation students. Thanks to these programs, retention and engagement have increased.


Lee HamptonGuest Author:  Lee Hampton, Director of Multicultural Affairs, Jackson College

Posted May 7, 2015

Fostering Success for All!

May is National Foster Care Month. While many of us are celebrating College Decision Day and high school graduations, not all of our students have the support and preparation they need to make college possible. Students from foster care are among the most vulnerable student population, and unfortunately, their education outcomes reflect this. National studies tell us that only 50 percent of these students will receive their high school diploma; 20 percent will make it to college; and roughly 4 percent will earn an Associate’s Degree. A mere 3 percent will receive their Bachelor’s degree by age 26. We all know that a college degree or high quality certification is an essential part of ending the cycle of poverty, so it begs the question, what can we do to help our students in foster care overcome these odds and realize their education dreams?FosteringSuccess

Fortunately for Michigan’s students in foster care, there is hope! In 2012, through a generous donation from The Kresge Foundation, Western Michigan University and the Havirmill Foundation, Fostering Success Michigan was launched as a statewide initiative of Western Michigan University’s Center for Fostering Success. The mission of Fostering Success Michigan is to increase access and success in the education to career pipeline for students from foster care in Michigan. In a joint effort with MCAN and other college access partners in Michigan, Fostering Success Michigan has adopted the Lumina Big Goal - working to increase college attainment for students to 60 percent by the year 2025. While there is a lot of work remaining to reach that goal, Fostering Success Michigan has made great strides in the last three years, including helping to increase the number of campus-based support programs for students who experience foster care. This strategy has shown increased graduation success, from five campus-based support programs in 2012 to 14 in 2015.


Utilizing Collective Impact framework, Fostering Success Michigan partners closely with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Treasury, educators, students, and others, providing resources, support, and networking activities focused on insulating the education to career pipeline. Because of the continued partnership and collaboration by Fostering Success Michigan’s engaged partners, we are seeing an increased percentage of students from foster care utilizing financial resources like the Education Training Voucher and the Fostering Futures Scholarship. However, to fully support the educational goals of students who experience foster care, we need you to join the Fostering Success Michigan Network!

Educators and those working to support college access play a huge role in helping students from foster care become college ready. Fostering Success Michigan would like to partner with you, and provide the resources and information you need to effectively support these students. There are three easy steps you can take right now, to engage with the work of Fostering Success Michigan and support our students as they make their way to and through postsecondary education:

  1. Know your resources: Visit FosteringSuccessMichigan.com and browse through more than 400 resources geared toward supporting students who experience foster care. These resources include the FSM Guide Series which provides information on maximizing financial aid, summaries of campus-based support programs, and more. The Fostering Success Michigan resource website also has recordings of past webinars, blogs by students who have experienced foster care, and a toolkit created specifically for educators and education staff.
  2. Partner with case workers, foster parents and kinship caregivers to support students: There are many adults involved in the life of a student who is in foster care. When planning events at your school or community organization, remember to use inclusive language, ensuring that those supportive adults feel welcome. Some educators have expressed concern about whom they are allowed to share information with, given that the student in foster care may not have contact with a parent. In 2013 President Obama signed the Uninterrupted Scholars Act adding child welfare agencies to the list of approved entities that can access a student’s academic record. As an educator you can be a great advocate by engaging caregivers and professionals in the student’s academic experience.
  3. Use person-first language: Foster care is an experience, not a definition. It is important to remember that students who experience foster care are students, children, youth, and young adults FIRST. Engage your students as individuals understanding that the experience of foster care varies person-to-person. Trust may take longer to develop with a student who has experienced foster care, but developing a supportive relationship based on who they are as an individual is the key. 

Hopefully you find these tips helpful as you work to support the students who experience foster care in your community. Remember, while we pause to focus on foster care one month out of the year, our students who experience foster care need your support year-round. We hope you will join the Fostering Success Michigan Network and help support our students in foster care as they work toward their education and career goals!

D68EE938-5600-499C-A0E5-D3842E9E5287 picmonkeyed 2Guest Author: Maddy Day, MSW, Director of Outreach and Training, Center for Fostering Success at Western Michigan University

Posted: May 5, 2015

Annual Statewide College Decision Day Doubles in Participation

Every year on NCAA College Signing Day, we see press conferences for student athletes announcing their commitment to play at their chosen colleges. Signing Day is an event that brings together the entire community – often, athletes’ parents are sitting right behind their college team-bound students, either participating in the announcement or expressing as much surprise and excitement as those around them. Coaches from both high school and college are their supporting their former and future players.

ReachHigher Fotor Collage 

MCAN staff celebrating College Decision Day 2014

There is national excitement and anticipation around this event, which we think is awesome! MCAN staff (most of us anyway) love college sports and follow the recruitment process closely. However, what we’d love even more is to see this excitement generated around the college-going process for ALL students, not just student athletes, who are committed to attending college – whether that’s a two- or four-year degree or a technical certificate. This is why we launched College Decision Day in 2014 and why we’re so excited to see how the initiative is expanding in its second year, with the number of host sites nearly doubling.

National excitement has been building around College Decision Day. The White House, in support of the First Lady’s Reach Higher campaign, has designated May 1 as National College Signing Day and is encouraging all participating schools to register their event with the national initiative. Last year’s social media push for folks to wear their college t-shirts and encourage students to #ReachHigher saw participation from government officials across departments, NASA, celebrities such as Scandal’s Darby Stanchfield, and – perhaps most famous of all – MCAN staff. We have a feeling that national involvement in 2015 College Decision Day will be even more exciting.

More than 100 high schools across Michigan are setting their Decision Day agendas and so far, they have been so impressive! Host sites are asked to celebrate all seniors for their postsecondary educational plans in front of all students to help generate college-going culture in the school, but schools are taking their Decision Day celebrations to the next level with raffles, t-shirts, barbeques, guest speakers, pep rallies, and even a step show!

And Michigan is about to have the national spotlight for our efforts. This year, the White House has selected Detroit as the location for an incredible citywide College Signing Day, hosting Michelle Obama herself as the keynote speaker. More than 2,000 high school seniors from over 40 Detroit high schools will celebrate their futures alongside their teachers, counselors, partner organizations and representatives from higher education institutions and programs.

We’re excited to see college participation in this year’s Decision Day ramped up as well. The admissions department at Ferris State University is collaborating with MCAN on ways to formalize college participation in Decision Day, including early on-site admission for juniors to help illustrate that filling out a college application is manageable, especially with support from adults, and to start practical conversations about college with juniors. They’ll also include on-site admission for eligible seniors that may not have applied to any other colleges prior to Decision Day. We couldn’t be happier about this partnership and can’t wait to see how more colleges get involved with Decision Day in the future.

We have so many great things planned for Decision Day and encourage you to get involved! Volunteer at one of your schools – volunteer needs are being shown on our host site list. And please showcase your Decision Day participation – whether you are simply wearing your college t-shirt or supporting your old high school’s event – on social media using the hashtags #DecisionDay and #ReachHigher. We are so happy to send our seniors off to college with this last celebration, and to build college-culture school-wide for seniors to come.


Christ Taylor headshot 2013

Author: Christi Taylor, director of statewide initiatives and strategic partnerships, Michigan College Access Network


Posted: April 28, 2015

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