Michigan's College Access Blog

Why a Dedicated Week to College Applications is Necessary

I Applied stickersThe kick-off of another successful Michigan College Application Week (CAW) has me thinking back to 2008, when I was a high school senior and a soon-to-be first generation college student who had no idea how to begin researching and applying to college. What if my high school would have dedicated an entire week to helping me and my fellow seniors fill out college applications, learn about financial aid and scholarships, and really dive into the ins and outs of applying to college? And what if they would have spent that week celebrating the entire college-going process, like they celebrate homecoming or prom?

Seeing nearly 300 schools prepare for College Application Week this year has been so exciting. This week, thousands of seniors (many of whom are first-generation like me, or low-income, or unsure whether they are college material) will be guided through the application process rather than trying to figure it out (and sometimes failing) alone. This is why we do Michigan College Application Week: applying to college is hard. It is not intuitive and it is not always happening organically within schools, at least not in a way that reaches students who aren’t sure whether they should be going to college at all. It doesn’t take much to discourage a frustrated, at-risk student from applying—one confusing question or missing social security number or too-expensive application fee is enough, especially without a support system. MI College Application Week ensures there is a school wide and statewide (and even a nationwide—with all fifty states participating this year) support system in place.

CAW meme1Logistically, the importance of CAW is a no-brainer. Setting aside time and space during the school day is the best way to break down barriers ensuring every senior applies to college and has the help they need to do so. But its real importance is in its ability to change the culture within a school. Dedicating a week, allocating class time, and getting the entire school involved in CAW shows that learning how to get to college is just as important as learning math or English. Taking the time to help every senior apply either before or during the week shows that the label “not college material” simply does not apply to any student in the building. And this will trickle down: juniors and underclassmen will hear all the college talk and watch seniors being supported and applauded as they apply, and they will begin to anticipate their opportunity to apply to college.

MI College Application Week helps introduce postsecondary planning as a systemic, integral part of a school’s operations. If it is constantly reinforced and celebrated, students from every grade will begin to see college not as a privilege reserved only for some kids but as an expectation for all kids and a concrete, attainable goal. College is for everyone.

Congratulations to all of our host sites, volunteers, and of course students on the thousands of applications will be completed during MI College Application Week 2014. Already looking forward to next year—mark your calendars for October 26 – 30, 2015!

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

Posted: November 3, 2014

Statewide Initiative Success: Building Leadership Team and Direct Service Provider Buy-In

LCAN Spotlight: Hillsdale County Career Access Planning (HCCAP!)

Last month we launched Future Corps, next week is College Application Week and shortly after we'll shift our focus to FAFSA completion and financial aid. MCAN provides a number of statewide initiatives and support resources for LCANs to utilize and implement in their community, but it can be challenging convincing your leadership team or direct service providers to welcome a new initiative with open arms.

hccap paper

Many of our veteran LCANs will tell you the statewide initiatives are the low-hanging fruit that can quickly build community buy-in and strengthen the network during the early, formative years. However, some initial buy-in is necessary when bringing initiatives (which often take some work to build and grow) into a school or community. Enter Hillsdale County Career Access Planning (HCCAP!). The HCCAP! leadership team and their area high schools have been quite responsive when approached with new initiatives.

In 2013, HCCAP! had 10 area high schools, including one alternative school, participate in College Application Week with 92% of the senior population participating. Eight high schools participated in College Decision Day 2014, and most recently, with the LCAN's encouragement, Hillsdale High School jumped at the opportunity to join Future Corps. Many schools had to turn down the change to participate in Future Corps due to the quick turnaround time allotted to make a commitment and the financial match component, but HCCAP! was able to rally both the high school and their leadership team to provide the support needed to make the new initiative a reality.

While Hillsdale County Career Access Planning has successfully engaged their high schools with MCAN statewide initiatives, the process of making the case hasn't always been easy.

"Don't be overwhelmed by the initiatives or get frustrated when you present them and your audience isn't nearly as enthused as you are," said Lynn Burkett, HCCAP! coordinator. "Often Hillsdale County CAP! will take on more of the heavy-lifting of the program during the first year, until the high school is ready to take ownership and has stronger buy-in among personnel." 


Meeting resistance is not uncommon. Those working directly with students may be cautious to adjust their process or view it as additional work. It will take time to demonstrate the benefits of a new initiative or resource.

"During our first year of College Application Week, our counselors saw the benefits not only for the students to complete college applications in the fall, but for their workload as well," said Lynn. "Our counselors realized that when all students finalized college applications by College Application Week, this dramatically changed their availability to support students in finding financial aid and ultimately enrolling in college in the spring." Because of this positive experience, Hillsdale County schools were excited to host College Decision Day and started planning for College Application Week 2014 immediately.

When building support and buy-in, it's important to meet directly (and often) with those providing the direct service. As the LCAN coordinator, Lynn works as a liaison between the direct service providers and the LCAN leadership team or MCAN to report areas of improvement and success.

"When the opportunity for Future Corps presented itself, our LCAN was able to spring into action and meet with the high schools we felt were the best fit for the program because we have an established relationship based on trust between our leadership team and area high schools," said Lynn.

To learn more about Hillsdale County Career Access Planning visit www.hccap.org. To learn more about MCAN statewide initiatives visit www.micollegeaccess.org/statewide-initiatives

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

Posted: October 29, 2014

LCAN Leadership Team Success: Facilitating New Partnerships

LCAN Spotlight: Washtenaw Futures

WF final logo

One of the more challenging (but magical) tasks for LCAN leadership teams is figuring out how to leverage existing assets to create new partnerships and programs. Washtenaw Futures recently demonstrated this high-impact strategy when leadership team discussions shifted from "What is our data telling us about where we need to focus our efforts?" to "How do we work together creatively to solve this problem?"

The Washtenaw Futures leadership team realized students lacked the support to navigate the college process. The leadership team had been meeting for some time and trust and familiarity was established between members that hadn't existed previously. When Decky Alexander, Faculty Associate at Eastern Michigan University's Graduate School spoke up and said, "We may have a creative solution", other community leaders were ready to listen and support.

The solution included developing a college advising program utilizing graduate students from Eastern Michigan University's Masters of School Counseling and Masters of Educational Leadership programs. Milan High School, Ypsilanti Community High School and Ypsilanti New Tech were identified as the schools to receive the services, not only because of their need to boost college enrollment rates among low-income students, but because their K-12 leaders were playing an active role within the LCAN leadership team, and were ready to act quickly to bring a much needed service to their buildings.

Moving from idea to reality was a fairly smooth process since each leadership team member had been engaged from the early stages of the LCAN development and understood how this strategy supported the common agenda of Washtenaw Futures. 

WF college coachesHow does the new partnership work within Washtenaw County? Eastern Michigan University is providing full-time (20 hours a week) graduate assistantships which covers tuition and other resources such as parking, computers, etc. MCAN provided the college advising training for the newly hired graduate assistants. The local school districts, Milan and Ypsilanti, contributed the graduate assistantship stipends for each 'college coach' as well as additional costs needed to support the position within the school district. To ensure the advisers are receiving adequate support in their new roles and are working collaboratively with the school counselors, the graduate assistants meet with their LCAN Coordinator, LCAN Director, and EMU liaison on a bi-weekly basis.

The partnership is still early in its progress, but already the LCAN is hearing from the school counselors that the college advisers are being received positively by the students. The college advisers have organized college fairs for students, in addition to scheduling intentional one-on-one planning meetings with graduating seniors. The counselors are grateful for the additional support to ensure their students know how to navigate the path to college.

EMU College Coaches from left to right: Amber Hawkins, William Horton-Anderson, and Jessica Hendricks

To learn more about Washtenaw Futures visi www.facebook.com/washtenawfutures

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

Posted: October 15, 2014

NCAN Takeaway: The Critical Role of High-Level Leaders in the College Access Movement

We frequently stress the importance of cross-sector, high level leaders being at the table when talking about making needle-moving progress toward college attainment. In fact, it is the premise of Collective Impact, the framework we live by at MCAN. So it was refreshing to hear this idea reinforced in many of the plenary sessions at the National College Access Network annual conference, which MCAN staff attended last month in my home state of Arizona.

The conference kicked off with an address from the Honorable Greg Stanton, mayor of Phoenix. He spoke of the need for increasing college attainment in Arizona and, more impressively, cited key metrics around the state's college attainment including the percentage of adults who currently have a college degree and the percentage of jobs in Arizona that will require a college degree by 2020. These are metrics that MCAN embeds in our messaging, but it was inspiring to see Phoenix's mayor, whose day-to-day job encompasses so much more than just education, plugged into his city and state's educational attainment data and, more importantly, was committed to improving this data. Further, he discussed the significant gaps in college attainment for Hispanic adults (who make up nearly 30% of Arizona's population) and his commitment to aligning systems to help close these gaps.

Having a high-level elected official engaged in the college access conversations happening in the community is a game-changer. Also a game-changer, according to Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, is this same intentional buy-in from high-level leaders in the world of K-12: high school principals. Busteed argues that principal leadership is critical to student success. High schools with talented principals are 2.6x more likely to have above average teacher engagement scores, meaning the students these teachers interact with are also more likely to be engaged in school and thus enter and succeed in college. Our close relationship to high school principals in Michigan has allowed us to see this leadership in action: we know that principals who are excited about college can drive change and progress in their schools.

We hope you continue to engage your leaders as you move forward with the school year!

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

Posted: October 7, 2014

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