Michigan's College Access Blog

Michigan makes the switch to the SAT

Recently the Michigan Department of Education announced that all public schools will offer the SAT rather than the ACT as a free college admissions test starting in 2016. Michigan has long been an "ACT only" state, which is why the recent announcement took many by surprise. Some school officials aren't looking forward to administering a new test, and many of our Local College Access Networks are wondering what this means for longitudinal student data. Although ACT has issued a formal protest against MDE and the Department of Technology, Management & Budget's decision, we must prepare for change and embrace the additional benefits the switch will bring to students.

According to department officials and education reforms experts, the switch to the SAT should be fairly painless for students. The SAT will be offered free of charge to all juniors and may better measure what students are learning from their classwork.

While the switch may seem daunting to school administers, school counselors, and community leaders, resources and support from The College Board should help soften the transition. The College Board has a number of helpful resources, campaigns and fee waiver programs, including some specifically targeted at low-income students and students of color.

Among their resources are free sample SAT questions, full SAT practice tests, a SAT online course and an official SAT study guide. Access to Opportunity is an initiative designed to identify and break down barriers preventing low-income, first generation and underrepresented minority students from accessing college. Additionally, low-income students can qualify for test fee waivers, college application fee waivers, and to receive college preparation paperwork. The College Board also dedicates a portion its website to education professionals, providing them with the tools they need to become proficient in test coordinating. These resources will allow school administrators to become familiar with the redesigned SAT and help them create curriculum that will prepare their students for the test.

And let us not forget Michigan eLibrary's LearningExpress has the SAT and the ACT WorkKeys covered! Students can utilize the free LearningExpress Library College Prep Center to take practice tests in preparation for all sections of the SAT test.


Many LCANs use ACT readiness scores to track the academic readiness of students in their community. As the SAT transition happens next year, MCAN will help coach these networks on how to manage the data transition.

MCAN also scheduled a webinar today, January 20, with Kahn Academy, a free online learning resource for students and educators. The College Board has recently partnered with Khan Academy to provide free SAT preparation materials to all students starting in 2015. Khan Academy will all be doing a major updated release of the SAT prep resources available this spring. It's not too late to register for the webinar!

The DTMB's decision to switch to the SAT is a reminder that the college-going process is forever changing. With the proper resources and tools our community leaders can prepare our students to successfully navigate the SAT. The added benefits for students will make the extra effort required by community leaders well worth it.

Jamie Jacobs headshot 2013Author: Jamie Jacobs, director of professional development for the Michigan College Access Network

Posted: January 20, 2015

How to Make a College Promise: Lessons from Kalamazoo

Originally published through the W.E. Upjohn Institute blog on January 12, 2015.

As researchers focusing on issues of employment and education, we have been studying the impact of free college since the Kalamazoo Promise was announced just over nine years ago.  The President’s plan parallels the Kalamazoo Promise in important aspects, making the well‐researched Kalamazoo experience highly relevant to the debate about to begin in Congress. Clearly, low‐income and first‐generation college students face many barriers to higher education: adequate funding is just one hurdle. Our research shows, however, that reducing those financial barriers indisputably increases the number of young people attending post‐secondary institutions, progressing through school, and completing degrees or certificates.

The president’s program was modeled in part on the Tennessee Promise, an initiative announced last year by Republican Governor Bill Haslam that makes community college free for all Tennessee high‐school graduates beginning in 2015. The Tennessee Promise, in turn, was inspired by the Kalamazoo
Promise and a growing number of other place‐based scholarship programs in places as diverse as El Dorado, Arkansas, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In an important regard, the President’s plan differs from the Tennessee Promise and takes a lesson from Kalamazoo. Like many other scholarship programs, the Tennessee Promise is a “last‐dollar” program, meaning that funds are awarded after other sources of student loan financing are received. This structure has the unintended effect of benefiting middle‐income more than low‐income students, especially in the case of community colleges where federal financial aid in the form of Pell grants covers the full cost of community college.  

By contrast, one of the best aspects of the President’s plan is that the tuition funding would be awarded first, making it possible for low‐income students to use their Pell grants to support living costs, thereby reducing the number of hours worked and making it possible for them to focus on their education. The Kalamazoo Promise pioneered this innovation, but only one other Promise program among the states has adopted it to date.

Even more critically, our research into the impact of Promise programs has shown that money alone is not the answer. In Kalamazoo and elsewhere, it has become clear that local community colleges must be ready to accommodate an influx of students, many of them low‐income or first‐generation college‐goers
who often require extra support at the post‐secondary level. Supporting new students will also make new demands on local K‐12 school districts and community‐based organizations. The academic expectations of community colleges must be clearly articulated to K‐12 district leadership so that the transition from high school to college is smooth and students can avoid having to spend time and money on developmental or remedial courses. We call this community alignment, and it is a critical element in the success of any scholarship program.

The president’s proposal improves on the Tennessee model in several respects. Importantly, students may attend half‐time. In Kalamazoo, we have found that part‐time attendance can ease the transition to college for students who may not be fully prepared. It is also far‐sighted that the free community college tuition under the president’s proposal applies not only to recent high school graduates, as the Chicago and Tennessee programs do, but also to adults who can benefit from going back to college. Just as the GI Bill in the 1940s dramatically expanded the proportion of young people attending college, laying the groundwork for the U.S. economy’s dynamic growth in the 1950s and 1960s, so does expanded access to community college for recent graduates and adults in need of greater human capital could help businesses assemble the globally competitive workforce of the 21st century. 

We are at an exciting moment for college access, as a multitude of initiatives at the national, state, and local levels converge to expand opportunity, promote attainment, and reduce the cost of higher education. Some of the most innovative developments are taking place at the very local level, where place‐based scholarships like the Kalamazoo Promise are reshaping school districts, towns, and cities throughout the nation. They are an example of grassroots responses to local needs that is one of the great strengths of our policymaking framework. The president’s announcement provides much‐needed national leadership to move forward these multiple efforts. We hope that Congress will now join in, providing the resources needed for this investment in the nation’s economic future.

Guest Authors:

Michelle Miller-Adams

Michelle Miller-Adams, research associate at the W.E. Upjohn Institute and associate professor at Grand Valley State University
 Bridget Timmeney
Bridget Timmeney, special projects coordinator at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research
Posted: January 13, 2015


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

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