Michigan's College Access Blog

Are there Invisible Students on Your Campus?

MCAN features people and partners in the community who are doing exceptional work in the college access field. If you would like to be considered for a spotlight feature or learn more, please contact Emma Walter, MCAN's strategy assistant for external engagement, by sending an email to Emma(a)micollegeaccess.org.

Signs of homelessness on college campuses can be easy to miss. Students sleeping in library reading nooks, vehicles in student parking lots that rarely change location, backpacks bulging with a student’s possessions, youth bringing plastic baggies to events serving food (to collect leftovers)…  

Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the ability to acquire such foods in a socially acceptable manner. The most extreme form is often accompanied with physiological sensations of hunger.

Homelessness means that a person is without a place to live, often residing in a shelter, an automobile, an abandoned building or outside, while housing insecurity includes a broader set of challenges such as the inability to pay rent or utilities or the need to move frequently.

All these challenges affect students, and the results this year suggest that it is more common to endure them during college than to have all of one’s needs met.


Housing and food insecurity are not new issues on college campuses. The Wisconsin Hope Lab, a research group focusing on issues of postsecondary student equity, found in its 2018 “Still Hungry and Homeless in College” survey of 43,000 students, at 66 institutions, that 36 percent of four-year college students were food insecure in the 30 days preceding the survey, with that figure being 42 percent for community college students. Similarly, 36 percent of university students said they were housing insecure and 9 percent said they were homeless, while 46 percent of community college students cited housing insecurity and 12 percent said they were homeless.

As the State Coordinator for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth at the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), my work focuses on supporting public schools in removing barriers to education for pre-K through 12th grade students, who are experiencing homelessness in order to enhance school success, and to help them reach beyond to postsecondary education. We do this through 34 regional McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Grants, encompassing all counties and intermediate school districts in the state, and nearly 98 percent of all public school districts.  Regional coordinators work with school district Homeless Liaisons to identify students experiencing homelessness, provide school supplies, transportation, help with obtaining school, health and other important records, academic support and tutoring, school meals and snacks, clothing, shoes, under and outer wear, school uniforms, counseling and referrals for many more community services to meet the family’s and students’ unique needs.  Every public school district is required to designate a staff member to identify and serve students experiencing homelessness. 

Patricia Gentile, president of North Shore Community College in Denvers, MA, told the Education Dive, 

“Addressing those emergency needs beyond tuition and fee support is what we are going to have to do to make sure our students enroll and complete.”

“This is going to impact our workforce over time. This is not a charitable thing; it’s an economic thing.”

After high school graduation (or GED completion), however, there is no such mandate for postsecondary institutions to designate staff to support such students. Fourteen State Education Agencies (SEAs) - including Michigan - have developed Higher Education Networks, consisting of Single Points of Contact (SPOCS) - leaders in the financial aid offices at postsecondary institutions, to identify and support college students experiencing hunger and homelessness. These programs provide training and resources for SPOCs to increase the educational attainment of the most vulnerable college students.






What can YOU do to support these vulnerable students on your campus?

  1. Observe and collect data – Develop and distribute a survey for all students to learn the extent of food and housing insecurity among your students and on your campus. Check the WI HOPE Lab’s annotated list of these studies for examples.
  2. Develop a resource network – Identify an appropriate staff member to serve as a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for your institution and/or campuses. Join the SEA’s Higher Education Network for Homeless and Foster Youth. Work with the SEA’s Homeless Education Coordinator to identify state, regional and local resources for food and housing support.
  3. Request training for faculty and staff about the extent of the problem, the impact of these issues on students, and ways to support students experiencing these struggles. This is available through the SEA’s State Homeless Education Coordinator and national organizations. (See Resource List at end of this article.)
  4. Start with the EASY STEPS – Start a food pantry on campus with donations from administrators, faculty, and staff. Make campus housing available during the semester and holiday breaks for students in need (not just international or out of state students). Make community resources and contact broadly available on campus. Strengthen relationships with student organizations.
  5. Destigmatize requests for help – Review campus, student and building policies and procedures to determine if any pose barriers to students who are experiencing food or housing insecurity. Communicate publicly across campus, online and through staff and faculty of the incidence of such issues on your campus, the availability of the resources and how students can access them and refer others to them.

Resources on Hunger and Homelessness for Postsecondary Insitutions 

Did You Know?


Author: Pam Kies-Lowe, State Coordinator for Homeless Education
Michigan Department of Education, Office of Educational Supports
Posted: Aug. 23, 2018

Pursuing Persistence and Completion: Innovative Program Grant jump starts Washtenaw's Community Scholarship Program

MCAN features people and partners in the community who are doing exceptional work in the college access field. If you would like to be considered for a spotlight feature or learn more, please contact Emma Walter, MCAN's strategy assistant for external engagement, by sending an email to Emma(a)micollegeaccess.org. 

In 2016, Washtenaw Futures received an Innovative Program Grant from MCAN to help launch the Community Scholarship Program and College Success Coach Initiative, a new program developed in partnership with the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Washtenaw Community College, and Eastern Michigan University. The Community Scholarship Program provides renewable scholarships for up to five years of college for students who are economically disadvantaged, students of color, and/or first-generation college students, and also provides a College Success Coach for scholars to help them successfully navigate to and through college.

Thanks to a generous, anonymous $1 million donation to the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation that jumpstarted the Community Scholarship Program, scholarships for the program were fully funded. However, through active engagement with Washtenaw Futures, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) recognized that students needed more than just scholarships to successfully complete college. Local data showed that many students were not persisting or completing college, and as a community focused on equity, this glaring disparity was impossible to ignore.

Thus, the College Success Coach component was developed in partnership with Washtenaw Community College and Eastern Michigan University to provide wraparound supports to the program’s scholars, making the program truly collaborative. The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation now manages the scholarship awards, Washtenaw Community College serves as the “home base” and anchor institution for the College Success Coach, Eastern Michigan University provides Success Coaching training, and Washtenaw Futures provides administrative oversight and partnership management. 

The Innovative Program Grant helped seed funding specifically for the College Success Coach component of the Community Scholarship Program by closing the funding gap needed to cover a part-time, 20 hour/week Success Coach’s salary and programming for scholars in the program’s first year. Without the Innovative Program Grant, the Community Scholarship Program would not have been able to hire its first Success Coach, Shawntae Harris, while the program’s partners worked to develop a sustainable funding model.

As with any new program, unexpected challenges came up that surprise no one who understands working with marginalized youth: food insecurity, transportation challenges, homesickness, housing insecurity, financial emergencies, and more. Coach Shawntae helped students work through a number of challenges that popped up during the school year, but it became increasingly clear to the Community Scholarship Program’s planning team that students needed access to an emergency fund to get them through life’s road bumps, especially since their families oftentimes could not contribute financially during emergencies. A third component of the Community Scholarship Program was added in 2017 called the Emergency Aid and Financial Assistance Fund, available to all scholars to ensure that emergencies did not derail their education.

Since the program’s inception, 33 students have been welcomed into the Community Scholarship Program, including the third cohort of students enrolling in college this fall. Nine of 11 students in Cohort 1 and 12 of 13 students in Cohort 2 successfully enrolled in college within 12 months of graduating high school, and most persisted into their second year of college. For the 2017-18 academic year, the program grew to add a second part-time Success Coach, Courtney Morris, who was also a former MCAN AdviseMI College Adviser. After Courtney and Shawntae completed their Master’s degrees in May 2018, the Community Scholarship Program made the decision to combine the two part-time Success Coach positions into one full-time College Success Coach, officially hiring Personna Hover, who formerly served as a College Adviser with the Michigan College Advising Corps. We look forward to growing the program with Personna as she serves Cohorts 1, 2 and 3, as well as future scholarship cohorts!----

female standing outdoors with blue necklace and grey dressThis blog post was written by Ashley Kryscynski, formerly the coordinator for Washtenaw Futures as of August 1, 2018. Washtenaw Futures is the Local College Access Network (LCAN) for Washtenaw County and was started in 2014. Washtenaw Futures is also part of Washtenaw County’s broader Cradle-to-Career Collaborative in partnership with Success by 6 Great Start Collaborative and the Washtenaw Alliance for Children and Youth.

Leveraging Innovation for College Readiness

MCAN features people and partners in the community who are doing exceptional work in the college access field. If you would like to be considered for a spotlight feature or learn more, please contact Emma Walter, MCAN's strategy assistant for external engagement, by sending an email to Emma(a)micollegeaccess.org.

Innovative programs don’t spontaneously hatch. Great ideas coupled with great effort, planning, and support are needed for an innovative idea to lead to life-changing programming. This was true for the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT), thanks to support through a grant from the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN). With MCAN’s goals to make college accessible for all and WMCAT’s mission to provide opportunities for individuals to make social and economic progress in their lives, it was a natural fit to join forces to provide further opportunities for college readiness in West Michigan.

WMCAT originally connected to MCAN through its Local College Access Network (LCAN) under the umbrella of KConnect in Kent County. With support from MCAN, we continued a program called Prep Year to benefit high school students, and created Step Year as a pilot program phase for postsecondary young adults looking to take that next step toward college.

Our goal for Prep Year and Step Year during 2016-2017 was to increase social, academic and employment skills; provide support toward college graduation; and foster preparation for postsecondary opportunities.

Prep Year

Prep Year is part of WMCAT’s nationally-recognized Teen Arts + Tech Program that engages 130-160 high school students from Grand Rapids Public Schools annually in an after-school program that connects creativity, civic engagement and college and career success through studio experiences.

Prep Year supports a college-going culture through activities and experiences including: workshops on financial aid, access to an on-site admissions counselor, college visits, WMCAT staff and instructor support of students throughout the college exploration and application process, career-related field trips and guest speakers, and a partnership with College 101 founder, Dr. Paul Hernandez.

“As a high school student, I was limited to exposure outside of my school,” shared former Prep Year and WMCAT teen student, Joshua Peoples. “I don’t think I would have chosen my major if I hadn’t gone to WMCAT in the first place. Generally, minorities don’t lean toward careers like programming, but it gave me more options to choose from. That exposure was key for me.”

Prep Year surfaced some solid stats in the 2016-17 year:

  • Seventy-seven percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that the Teen Arts + Tech program increased their desire to stay in high school.
  • Eighty percent of students indicated that their experience increased their interest in attending college.
  • Ninety percent of seniors who participated at WMCAT in the 2016-2017 program year graduated from high school on time.
  • Of those who graduated, 100 percent applied to college or another postsecondary option.

We also learned a few things along the way. Prep Year originally targeted high school seniors; however, we learned that seniors are really busy with extracurricular activities and college prep. Therefore, we revamped some programs to include grades 10 and 11, while including family activities around financial aid.

Step Year

The Step Year program engages young adults in postsecondary opportunities while providing a work experience. We hired eight young adult apprentices, all of whom were graduates of our teen arts program to work in Ambrose, a commercial screen printing business through WMCAT’s social enterprise program. The young adults earned a regular wage while learning how to run a small business and receiving extensive mentoring and support toward postsecondary opportunities.

Step Year tracked college enrollment and work metrics:

  • Of our eight apprentices, six were enrolled in college during 2016-17, completing up to 25 credits.
  • Our apprentices worked a total of 2,258.5 hours.
  • Seven apprentices on payroll worked an average of 10-15 hours a week.

We also benefitted from several lessons that will help us re-launch in the fall of 2018:

  • Time and resources to navigate the financial aid process were greater than anticipated.  
  • More time needs to be spent with participants exploring options to better prepare them for a postsecondary pathway.
  • We need to find the balance of maintaining a profitable commercial screen printing business while keeping eight novice employees on staff.

Overall, WMCAT will continue programming for Prep Year and re-launch Step Year this fall with additional staff and revamped curriculum. The innovation of both WMCAT and MCAN have already led to new programming and opportunities that have greatly impacted the lives of teens and young adults in the West Michigan community.

About the West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT)

WMCAT was opened in 2005 as one of the first replication sites of Bill Strickland’s Manchester Bidwell model from Pittsburgh, WMCAT has inspired and empowered hundreds of adults and teens to pursue new opportunity pathways, leading to income security for families and postsecondary success for young adults. Our three programmatic initiatives are an adult career-training program that moves under- and un-employed adults into living wage careers in healthcare support services; a teen arts and technology after-school program that connects urban high school students to studios in visual arts, media arts and technology; and two social enterprises, a commercial screen-printing business employing young adult apprentices, and a design-thinking consultancy.


Author: Jenny Griffen, Development and Communications Manager
West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology

Posted: August 7, 2018


Adviser Spotlight: Simone Dixon

AdviseMI is an initiative of the Michigan College Access Network that works with AmeriCorps to place recent college graduates in Michigan high schools with low college-going rates. The advisers are trained to help students navigate the complex college exploration process, retake college admissions tests, apply to colleges that are a good match/fit, complete the FAFSA, secure financial aid, and matriculate to college. Simone Dixon is a second-year adviser exiting the program, who served at Old Redford Academy.

1.  What is your college going story, and how did it lead you to this position? 

My college going story isn’t easy, but it’s pretty simple. I’ve always loved to learn and going to college wasn’t a question of if, but where. However, the universe had different plans in store for me and my family. Like most students across the country, I didn’t have access to a dedicated individual whose sole job was college advising. I planned on attending Saginaw Valley State University; however, I didn’t have a completed FAFSA. By the time I completed the financial aid form, there just wasn’t any money left. Therefore, I wasn’t able to attend. Like most people who loved knowledge, I made the only logical choice I could and attended Washtenaw Community College. From there I eventually transferred to Eastern Michigan University and finally had the “real” college experience I often hear my students speak of. I joined clubs, organizations and even held an on campus job for three years in a department that helped me find my passion and a job with AdviseMI. It was because of the network I created and their dedication to students’ growth that I first learned of AdviseMI and secured the position that would leave time to not only serve as an adviser in the city that is my second home, but also in my dad's former high school.

 2.   What was the biggest lesson you took from your time as an adviser?

The best thing I learned is to just be my authentic self and to own up to our shortcomings. High school students have a raw sense of honesty and will just tell it like it is. Often when I would ask students why they wouldn’t come see me or keep our appointments I would hear “You’re cool and all Ms.D but there's ALWAYS someone else in your office doing something and I just feel like you're too busy to really focus on me.” What I heard is “you need to have a better system of engaging with me because I feel overwhelmed when you multi-task and can’t put all your focus into me.” So I did what I do best; I owned up to my shortcomings and apologized. I had to admit that I couldn’t do it all and I didn’t have too. I was, in fact, the “cool” person in the building and all I had to do was slow down and take a minute to regroup and the world wouldn’t stop spinning.

 3.   Describe an initiative or program you spearheaded during your years of service.

The best thing I created was a student office aide position. This position generates a lot of paperwork and administrative tasks. In exchange for community service hours, I recruited three reliable and trustworthy students to file and organize paperwork, stuff envelopes, make copies and bulletin boards as well as volunteer at my school events by greeting parents and staffing the welcome desk. I did this because unlike my high school experience, my students don’t have access to opportunities to serve as an aide or assistant in the office or throughout the building for credit. This program not only has with my capacity but provided students with office experience in preparation for college and/or the workforce.

4.   What opportunities, if any, has this experience offered you now that you are completing your service? What are you plans now that this term has ended?

AdviseMI recognizes their advisers as the emerging leaders in the college access field. I have had multiple opportunities to contribute my voice, thoughts, time, means and talent to this organization through committee and conference presentations, as well as to serve as a mentor to incoming college advisers. From here, I will finish my master’s degree at Eastern Michigan University while still employed as a college adviser in my district. After that my plan is to pursue a PhD program out of state and to change the world because I know I am destined for greatness and this was only the beginning.

To learn more about AdviseMI visit http://www.micollegeaccess.org/statewide-initiatives/advisemi.


Author: Simone Dixon, AdviseMI Adviser Alum
Posted: July 31, 2018

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