Michigan's College Access Blog

Abandoning the term “At-Risk” for “At-Promise”: Turning the Meaning into Action.

Beverly Brown holds a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Oakland University, a Master’s in Administration from Central Michigan University, and a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Western Michigan University.  A native of Detroit, she now lives in Flint and currently works in Lansing as the Early Middle College Manager for the Michigan Department of Education.

I recently did a Google search for the terms “at risk” combined with “at promise.”  In less than a second, the search engine identified 172,000,000 results. One article written in 2006 (Whiting, Vanderbilt University) asserted that the term “at-promise” conveyed a scholarly identity early on in a student’s educational journey. Another article published in The Washington Post (Mathews, 2009) suggested that the term “at promise” was merely “feel good language” that had no real meaning. In 2012, Ferris State University (Fulmer & Wildfong) offered a deeper understanding of the term. They suggested that the phrase focused on one’s natural gifts and potential for good.

While scholars continue to write about the pros and cons of the term “at-promise,” I want to point to a school here in Michigan that has not only given meaning to the term, but they also put it into action every day. I have closely observed the founder, leaders, and teachers at Mott Middle College in Flint for the past five years. Since 1991, they have intentionally welcomed students who are labeled what dominate society refers to as “at-risk.”  From the very beginning, they adopted and embraced the following motto: A fresh start toward a successful future.  In so doing, they applied a strategic formula, including robust wrap-around services, to transform students into young scholars.  These young people, many of whom are economically disadvantaged and African American, walk away knowing that they are “at-promise.”

The founder and former principal of Mott Middle College, Dr. Chery Wagonlander, created a purposeful culture of academic confidence among students. The first step, however, was to create a scholarly culture among teachers. In other words, scholars cultivating scholars became the theory that she put into action. What Dr. Wagonlander did more than two decades ago, was to enact what Carol S. Dweck wrote about in her 2006 book, Mindset. Both women challenged the traditional narrative of “at-risk” by declaring that all human beings can develop purposeful, positive academic, technical and social outcomes—no matter what background, age or race.

This “at-promise” framework has yielded an average GPA of 3.0 for its 13th year and dual enrollment graduates, many of whom earn more than one Associate Degree upon exiting Mott Middle College. The Early Middle College movement in Michigan is predicated on this “at-promise” philosophy. It is a particularly relevant framework for those students who are regarded as economically disadvantaged, underserved, underperforming and underrepresented. First generation college students also benefit greatly from the “at-promise” mantra at Early Middle Colleges across the state.

To learn more about becoming a state-approved Early Middle College, register your team of teachers, counselors, administrators, pupil accounting clerks and postsecondary partners for the Feb. 22, 2019 Getting Started Workshop at Mott Community College in Flint at the following link before February 8: Early Middle College Getting Started Workshop.

Author: Beverly Brown Ph.D., Early Middle College Manager, Michigan Department of Education.
Posted: January 22, 2019


The Journal of College Access – A Resource for High School Counselors, College Access Practitioners, Counselor Educators, and Researchers

Since the publication of its inaugural issue in 2015, the Journal of College Access (JCA) has published 28 articles: 10 articles describing original research; 6 ‘perspective’ articles written by and/or about influential people, organizations, and access-related issues; 4 literature review articles; 3 book reviews; 3 research report critiques; 1 resource highlight article; and finally 1 best practices article.  The Journal really does have something for everyone involved in college access work – from those on the ‘front lines’ in high schools and community organizations to researchers investigating access-related issues and the counselor educators preparing the next generation of school counselors – and everyone is invited to contribute to JCA.

What, specifically, might you find in JCA?  You’ll find research reports describing investigations into areas such as Latinx college-going, pre-college summer programming, and the effect of Naviance on college application rates.  You’ll find a special mini issue of JCA dedicated to the Obama’s influence on the college access landscape with perspectives from The White House, The Kresge Foundation, and the Secretary of Education.  You’ll find literature reviews describing college access for students with intellectual disabilities and 10 years of school counseling intervention research.  You’ll find recommendations for engaging homeless, justice-involved, and immigrant students.  You’ll find all of this, and much more! 

For people interested in reading the peer-reviewed literature related to college access, JCA is somewhat unique as it is open-access – anyone can go to JCA’s website to access it, without needing to go through a university library or have a subscription.  This makes it a great place for ‘end users’ to get peer-reviewed information, and for researchers to publish their work all articles are also indexed in ERIC. 

As hinted at above, researchers are not the only people who can submit articles – JCA welcomes submissions from anyone who has an idea they would like to share.  Have a program you developed you’d like to share?  You can do this as a Best Practices submission.  Read a book related to college access?  Submit your thoughts in a Book Review submission.  Read a thought-provoking research report?  Submit your thoughts as a Research Report Critique.  Write a literature review for a class that you think might be worth sharing?  Submit it as a literature review.  You’ll find examples of each of these areas already published in JCA – we hope you will not only ready JCA, but contribute!

Dr. Tim Poynton is an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and serves as an Editorial Board member for the Journal of College Access.  Sophie Schuler is a doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Author: Dr. Tim Poynton, Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston
Posted: Jan. 15, 2019





Author: Sophie Schuyler, Doctoral Student, University of Massachusetts Boston
Posted: Jan. 15, 2019


2018 COMPASS AWARD RECIPIENT: Former State Representative Brett Roberts

Ensuring public policy supports Michigan’s momentum toward achieving the Big Goal – 60 percent by 2025 – is a critical strategy of the Michigan College Access Network. Working with mission-aligned allies, MCAN advises policymakers at all levels on crafting dynamic legislation that results in reduced barriers and increased attainment across the state and country. Recipients of this award have launched and/or championed bold proposals that focus on increasing Michigan’s postsecondary attainment rate.

1. You received the Compass Award based on your ability to ensure policy supports Michigan’s momentum toward achieving the Big Goal, 60 percent degree attainment by the year 2025. Tell us why education is one of your priorities?

Education has continued to be one of my priorities because it ensures that Michigan will have a healthy economy for generations to come. By investing in our students today, we are creating a solid foundation with which students can work toward the careers that suit them best. Following the great recession, students were often choosing that college was too expensive for them, or that it was more affordable to pursue a degree in another state. I don’t want that to be the reality for my own kids. Michigan is growing more and more every day, and strengthening schools and colleges in the state will incentivize current students to invest their time and professional lives back in Michigan instead of moving elsewhere.

2. What specific upcoming policies/initiatives around education do you see having a big impact in Michigan?

The Legislature recently approved the Marshall Plan, which is a $100 million project designed specifically to support Michigan's educational systems and guide them toward preparing students for careers and in-demand jobs. It’s no secret that Michigan’s unemployment rate has dropped significantly in recent years, however, we now have thousands of job openings in careers where the labor supply is struggling. With the approval of the Marshall Plan, I think that Michigan can reasonably expect that students today will be guided, if they’re interested, toward jobs that Michigan is in desperate need of filling. Doing so will result in a positive impact on the state’s economy.

 3. Do you have any advice for constituents interested in advocating for or engaging in policy such as education policy?

The most effective leaders in any policy start where it matters most: the local level. If you’re interested in education policy, get involved. Go to school board meetings and don’t be afraid to engage with teachers, parents, or other school leaders. If you feel strongly enough about education policies, I would encourage you to either run for a seat on your local school board or pursue degrees that allow you to reach new conclusions about the most effective policies that schools and colleges can use when instructing their students.

Author: Former State Representative Brett Roberts
Posted: January 8, 2019


Reflecting on 2018: A Year of Gaining Momentum

Happy New Year! As we enter 2019, we can't help but look back on some of the exciting and new accomplishments that happened at MCAN in 2018. It was a year of momentum and energy. We are excited to see what 2019 brings!

In 2018, the MCAN staff:

  • Awarded $1.13 million in grants to more than 41 different organizations across the state;
  • Engaged 346 high schools in the Michigan College Month campaign and 291 high schools in the College Cash Campaign;
  • Celebrated a $50,000 grant from the FCA Foundation for AdviseMI;
  • Trained 60 LCAN colleagues at our combined Maritime Academy and coached 27 Local College Access Networks in their collective impact work;
  • AdviseMI received one Outstanding National Service Award;
  • Awarded 10,177 SCECHs through MCAN’s various training opportunities;
  • Said goodbye to Sarah Anthony (now State Rep. Anthony) after eight years of service to MCAN and to Connor McLaughlin after two years of service to MCAN;
  • Welcomed three new staff members: Shavonna Green, Jahshua Smith, and Christopher Tremblay;
  • Moved to a new office at 200 N. Washington Square in downtown Lansing;
  • Welcomed 692 members in our first year of membership;
  • Released the Total Talent report in partnership with 15 Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable (MIHEART) members;
  • Hosted 100 students during Michelle Obama’s book tour event in Detroit; 
  • Leveraged a new partnership with scholarship platform Scholly impacting 10,000 students at 82 high schools; and
  • Recognized an additional 82 school counselors among 45 counties for completing the Postsecondary Planning Training Course and launched the Advanced Counselor Training course modules with 101 completers. 

Watch for our annual report to be released this spring, where we will elaborate more about our 2018 accomplishments. To everyone who has dedicated their time, energy and support, we at the Michigan College Access Network thank you!


Author: Christopher Tremblay, MCAN director of external engagement
Posted: Jan. 3, 2019

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