Michigan's College Access Blog

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

2015 College Access Impact Awards: Honoring Those Who Reach for the Goal!

Program Spotlight

The theme of Michigan College Access Network’s 2015 conference focused on Goal 2025, and having a “Decade to Deliver,” which refers to increasing the number of Michigan residents with high-quality degrees or credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. Conference participants were asked to share their own commitments to achieving this goal, and social media was abuzz with inspiring tweets and posts; some of which can be viewed on Storify.

              FosteringSuccess                       Lansing Community College picmonkeyed

                                        Goal 2025 "Commitments," from left to right:
                                     Fostering Sucess and Lansing Community College

In keeping with the conference theme, the inaugural College Access Impact Awards Ceremony, held on Sunday, April 12 in Lansing, honored six recipients for their leadership in the field of college access, and commitment to reaching Goal 2025. Following are brief descriptions of the influential professionals and organizations that received these awards.

The Steward Award: Creating College Access TalentMICAN-Inaugual-Awards-0354 copy 2 Honoree: Western Michigan University
Through its efforts, WMU has dramatically contributed to increasing the skills, talent and knowledge of college access professionals in Michigan. MCAN selected WMU based on several factors including:

  • Leadership in supporting/facilitating MCAN's counselor professional development course;
  • First institution in Michigan implementing the new counselor postsecondary planning training course for Masters students; and
  • Launch of the Journal of College Access.

The Cardinal Award: Rallying Communities to Impact

2015 Honoree: Ashley Johnson, Detroit College Access Network

Johnson has advanced the college-going culture of her community while moving the needle on critical postsecondary metrics. MCAN selected her based on several factors including:

  • Talent in focusing energy on coordinating services rather than providing direct service;
  • Number of schools within the LCAN utilizing campaigns; and
  • Steady increase in participation of schools involved in campaigns.

The Beacon Award: Strengthening Success through Partnerships
2015 Honoree: The Kresge Foundation
The Kresge Foundation has continually endeavored to unite programs, activities and/or operations in support of postsecondary attainment. MCAN selected The Kresge Foundation based on several factors including:

  • Philosophical support for MCAN’s mission and activities;
  • Financial support for MCAN’s mission and activities; and
  • Thought-partnership for MCAN’s staff and board.

The Flagship Award: Developing Sustainable Networks

2015 Honoree: Destination Education
Destination Education has provided leadership in the creation of effective alliances focused on postsecondary attainment. MCAN selected Destination Education based on several factors including:

  • Commitment to Collective Impact;
  • Strong leadership team; and
  • Use of disaggregated data to make change.

The Compass Award: Advocating for Attainment

2015 Honoree: Governor Rick Snyder
Gov. Snyder has launched and/or championed bold proposals that focus on increasing Michigan’s postsecondary attainment rate. MCAN selected Governor Snyder based on several factors including:

  • Increased financial support for higher education institutions;
  • Vocal philosophical commitment to increasing postsecondary attainment; and
  • Strong and increasing support for MCAN in the state budget.

The Board of Directors Award

2015 Honoree: State Superintendent Michael P. Flanagan

MCAN’s Board of Directors saw fit to create a sixth award that will be presented when the occasion arises, but may not always be a consistent offering. The Board of Directors Award was given to Supt. Flanagan in honor of his impending retirement, and for being particularly supportive of MCAN’s mission and the Big Goal – 60 percent by 2025.

Have you shared YOUR commitment to Goal 2025? Conference participants shared their commitments in our photo booth, but the sharing shouldn’t stop. Post your commitment on Twitter or Facebook using hashtag #Goal2025.


 Author: Brandy Johnson, executive director, Michigan College Access NetworkBrandyCommitment2015 1

Posted: April 15, 2015

Achieving the Dream, Part 2

Increasing Student Attendance Rates from Start to Finish

The Start to Finish Program was started in fall 2012 on the campus of Lake Michigan College. The program was created to increase overall success and graduation rates among Promise Zone students.  After researching data and surveying faculty, attendance was identified as a key indicator of success. The initial Promise Zone cohort from 2011 had an attendance rate of 63 percent, compared to an average overall rate of over 80 percent for the college. We decided to implement an aggressive attendance strategy for this cohort. Our program is layered with various services, but attendance monitoring has definitely been one of the most effective.

Life coach-TiaraWeb

Life coach-RoyWeb

Courtney-life coach picWeb

  Life coaches and students
Lake Michigan College Start to Finish Program

Our life coaches work hard to establish a solid rapport with each student as soon as they show up on campus. This makes it a lot easier to have conversations in regards to attendance. The I.T. department provides our office with a daily report of the previous day’s attendance. The office assistant reviews the attendance every day and contacts each student who has missed at least one class, to inquire about the reason and offer assistance if needed. After two absences, the life coach intervenes. We initially thought contacting a student after each absence was excessive, so decided to contact them after two classes were missed. This was often times too late for several reasons:

  • Quite a few students had a hard time digging themselves out of the hole created by just two absences;
  • For each day they are not in class, students could be missing out on valuable participation points;
  • Some instructors even decrease letter grades after a set number of absences; and
  • It can take a couple days to communicate with students because contact information changed quite often. 

Because the repercussions of two absences can multiply quickly, contact after every absence gave us a better chance of addressing the issue before it was too late. The most common reasons for absences are usually transportation, work conflicts and personal issues. Classroom fear also is significant, as several students missed class because they didn’t complete assignments or understand what was being discussed during class.  In each situation, life coaches work closely with the students to guide them through the problem solving process, provide resources, reiterate the importance of attendance, and provide encouragement.

As a result, we were able to increase our attendance consistently each year, which resulted in significant gains in grade-point averages, completion rates and retention. This past fall semester, our students completed the semester with an 84 percent attendance rate; less than one point below the college average. Perhaps the most surprising result of our aggressive attendance monitoring is the reaction we received from students. Most students said they appreciated the contact because it was nice to know someone was concerned. Other students exclaimed, “I make sure I go to every class so you all won’t call me every day.”  Either way, it works!

Guest Author: Louis Thomas, Lake Michigan College

Posted: April 8, 2015

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