Michigan's College Access Blog

What Service means to me: An Adviser's Reflection

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.

Alexa Girouard is a second-year adviser who serves at Belding High School.

Just coming out of college, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA doing College Access and Success and Student Engagement work at Davenport University and with the Challenge Scholars programs with Grand Rapids Public Schools. This position ignited my passion for higher education and the way it impacts students’ lives. My service in VISTA was more about capacity building and indirect service, so I started to gain a hunger for doing service more directly and building stronger connections with students to make an impact. I then moved to serving with MCAN’s AdviseMI program as a College Adviser. Both of these programs have led me to be the passionate, young professional and confident leader I am today. I am so fortunate to do this nonprofit work and serve my incredible students, as well as work alongside so many intelligent, self-less, passionate advisers in my cohort. I am constantly grateful to be surrounded by powerful and empowering people, mentors and colleagues, who continually inspire me. I have learned so much from my students, my fellow advisers, and our phenomenal leadership at MCAN. Although this work is not always easy, it is one of the best decisions I have ever made and my experience means the world to me.

 My current service is so vastly different than my experience with VISTA, and they have both prepared me to advance myself. VISTA assisted me to become a young professional and gain my passion for higher education. AdviseMI has fostered my growth and has given me the opportunity to continue to cultivate these skills and attributes I have gained. I have grown more confident in my abilities, knowledge, leadership skills, and my ability to create relationships with students. At Belding, I have been able to help so many students take down barriers to postsecondary education, decide to pursue college to better themselves and erupt with happiness when I tell them they have the option to go to college when they never thought it was possible.  Being a hub of information and a resource for students and families in my community has been an absolute privilege. I have been able to increase their FAFSA submissions by 20%, held a dual-county college fair at my school, and held an event at our local community college for students and parents to come and learn more about colleges and programs.

 Service has shaped my life, my passion, and my professional and personal growth in very significant and special ways. Being a service member is the most valuable and rewarding position, and being able to help others and their communities come together and excel is just extraordinary. Being an AmeriCorps member means being a part of something much bigger than yourself, and willing to do the grassroots work as a puzzle piece of a larger solution for our communities. My time as a service member has brought me to some of the most amazing rewards of serving others, the most wonderful people and leaders, and facilitated some difficult lessons along the way. Being a service member teaches you about the world around you, and about other people’s challenges, which makes you become a person who searches for solutions. Service work is about entering a community, asking what they need, and doing what you can to advance that community, and in turn, to make the world a better place.

Author: Alexa Girouard, Second-Year AdviseMI Adviser, Belding High School
Posted: Nov. 6, 2018

Higher education costs are out of hand, keeping degrees out of reach

Gilda Z. Jacobs is the current President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy

From my 12 years as a legislator to my work at the helm of the Michigan League for Public Policy, the skyrocketing cost of college in Michigan has and continues to be a concern of mine. But it has suddenly and literally hit much closer to home.

 In the past few months, my daughter and her husband moved back home to Michigan from New York, bringing two of my adorable grandchildren with them. And while my work is always driven by what is best for all Michigan kids and families, the new reality of what that means for my family gives all our state policies a new context.

 Though my grandkids are four and two years old, I am already thinking—and yes, worrying—about their future. Education is at the very top of that list, from where they’re going to go for child care and preschool right now to where they are going to go to college. Because of my role at the League, I know too much about the public policy challenges in our state and the barriers Michigan kids are facing, and it makes it hard to be a “Mimi” (my grandma name) sometimes.

 The cost of college is a big concern, and it has gotten particularly outrageous here in Michigan. When I went to the University of Michigan in 1966, tuition cost roughly $200 to $300 a year. By the time my daughters were both college-aged in 1997, the average state public tuition was up to around $4,000 annually.

 That was a big leap, but nothing like what college costs have done since then, going through the roof over the last two decades and making a higher education even more difficult for families to be able to afford, at the very same time that a college degree is becoming more and more essential to a career. 

 The most significant tuition hikes in Michigan took place in the mid-2000s. For example, the class of 2015 at nearly every Michigan public university paid more than double the tuition paid by the class of 2003. More than double. At Michigan State University, for example, the class of 2003 paid a sticker price of just over $23,000 for four years of college, but the class of 2015 paid almost $54,000 for four years of college. That is a 132% increase in tuition at MSU over the course of 12 years. MSU is not the exception, but rather exemplifies the rule of all Michigan universities. And today, the average tuition is nearly $3,000 per year higher in Michigan than it was 10 years ago.

 How did we get here? Michigan policymakers have been part of the problem.

This huge increase is in large part because Michigan has made deep cuts in state funding for its universities, which the Michigan League for Public Policy examined in our 2016 back to school report, Rising tuition and weak state funding and financial aid create more student debt. Per-student funding for Michigan’s public colleges and universities is 17% below 2008 levels. Our Legislature is even taking money from our K-12 public schools to fund higher education and total funding is STILL far below what it was in 2008.

 A new report from the National Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that state spending on public colleges and universities remains well below historical levels across the country, and Michigan is no different. Worse yet, the Center found that Michigan’s state disinvestment in higher education and ballooning tuition costs disproportionately affect students of color and their families. Average tuition and fees at a Michigan university comprise about 36% of the median income of a Black family in Michigan 27% of the median income for a Latinx family, but only 21% of the median income for a white family. That’s the fourth-highest percentage in the nation for Black families and the fifth-highest for Latinx families.

Finally, Michigan is also underserving older college students. A growing number of college students in the state are older than traditional college student age, but Michigan has NO financial aid for students who have been out of high school for more than 10 years who are attending a public university.

Michigan’s growing higher education costs are a major problem. But the more voices we have drawing attention to this issue and the array of people affected by it, the more likely it is that policymakers will take notice, and more importantly, take action.

Recently, the Michigan College Access Network released the Total Talent report, which also calls attention to the work needed to make college accessible and affordable to students in Michigan. In particular, the report demands that the State of Michigan reduce the burden on families in paying for college, increase need-based financial aid funding through an investment of $400 million, and financially support the earning of credentials among adult workers in Michigan.

We are glad to be partnering with the Michigan College Access Network and other stakeholders to make sure a higher education is more affordable and accessible, not just for my grandkids but for all our kids and grandkids. Michigan’s future truly depends on it.

Author: Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO, Michigan League for Public Policy
Posted: Oct. 30, 2018

Two Years of Preparing for Michigan College Month: An Adviser's Perspective

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.

Nedra Hall is a second-year adviser who serves at Fitzgerald High School.

When beginning as a first-year adviser, I experienced a little fear in my heart when Michigan College Month (MCM) was introduced. Not the type of fear to be concerned about, but fear of what lied ahead. When establishing myself at Fitzgerald in September of my first year, I remember being determined to set high precedence for myself. I knew FAFSA was one of my main initiatives, so I began making plans for a FAFSA night to be executed as soon as the application opened. I struggled at first trying to learn the layout of the school and how to set up scheduled room requests for my event. However, I utilized information from summer training about how to make connections at the school that I serve. That is when I started to establish a connection with Tammy Findlay and Sharron Yoshonis, who were Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) coordinators at Fitzgerald. My first year as an adviser was heavily influenced by these two women. They not only provided guidance for me, but also allowed me to learn things on my own. For FAFSA night, I asked them how their previous financial aid nights looked, and they told me that they hadn’t had one in a very long time and when they did only a few parents showed. I anticipated the possibility that the outcome would be the same, but I took it a step further by going to each 12th grade English classroom to tell students about the event and finding out how to send out text blasts to parents. Another challenge I faced was getting a response on attendance. In turn, that made things harder when creating things like informational FAFSA folders for parents or ordering snacks. When FAFSA night occurred, it was a bittersweet moment. I was surprised when I had such a large turnout of students and parents. Granted, we ran out of folders and food, which made some guests disgruntled, but students were about to learn and complete their FAFSA. One of the main highlights of my first year is having the support of not only my site supervisor, but also finding support in people I had just met.

Coming into the program as a second-year adviser was almost as worrisome as the first, if not more. The WOIA program at my school had been discontinued, so I lost the support of Tammy and Sharron. I still had support from my program directors and some staff members, but this time around, I realized that everything is on me. I understand this can sometimes be a heavy burden to carry. At the beginning of the school year, our community went through a horrific ordeal where we lost a student. The passing of this student added an emotional barrier on top of everything else. Honestly, my second year felt harder than my first. Despite the challenges we faced as a community, I was determined to make the most of MCM. The students needed things to look forward to, and our community needed things to look forward to.  I planned for things for MCM utilizing the framework that was established during my first year. During my MCM, I scheduled several different On-Site Admissions with multiple schools coming on the same day, with over 40 students signed up for some. I moved FAFSA night one day after the application opened and some students brought donated food and the attendance was so high, we almost ran out of standing room. I feel humbled by the experiences I have gone through. To be immersed in a community and a school where people honestly do care about each other is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.


Author: Nedra Hall, Second-Year AdviseMI Adviser, Fitzgerald High School
Posted: Oct. 23, 2018

Breaking Barriers as a First-Generation College Student

Felipe Lopez Sustaita is the current Executive Director of the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan for the State of Michigan under the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). 

My experience applying to college:
I grew up a proud migrant farm worker. Year round I traveled to Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Michigan and
worked along with my family since I was four years old until I started college in 2001. I picked oranges, grapefruit, onions, strawberries, asparagus, squash, blueberries, peaches, raspberries, pears, tomatoes, peppers, and apples. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would end up going to college. My mind was conditioned to believe that I would be working in the fields for the rest of my life. Growing up, words and books meant nothing to me.

However, my sister Mayra applied and got accepted to Michigan State University (MSU) thanks to our mentor Mr. Rudy Hernandez, current Lansing Community College Professor. At the time, Mr. Hernandez worked as a recruiter for MSU, and he happened to do a presentation at a migrant school on a summer night event. That encounter with him changed our lives. Mayra got accepted, and my parents gave me no option but to follow her footsteps so that I could be with her. I had a 13 on my ACT, I graduated high school in three years, and I couldn’t really read and write, but Mr. Hernandez helped me obtain admissions in 2001. Now I ask Mr. Hernandez what he was thinking by taking a chance on us. I still don’t know, but I am glad that he did. To be honest, I don’t remember ever applying to college; I think my sister Mayra must have helped, but the rest is history. I earned a doctorate degree right before turning 30 years old. I am thankful to God, my parents, brothers, sisters, Mr. Hernandez, Mayra, my wife Danielle, my four sons, my Band of Brothers, and all the people who have supported me through my journey.  

My college experience and how it connects to the work I'm doing today:
College was difficult, as it was not easy when I had to start school late and leave early because my family had to follow the crops. I missed a lot of school assignments, plus I did not like school, and never really took school seriously. When I came to MSU in 2001, I had to work harder than anyone on campus to catch up academically. I slept in the library at night, worked and attended school during the day. I was used to physical work but not the mental work. My motivation was knowing that my brothers and sisters were out there working in the cold, while I was living a good life in college. I felt guilty, but I worked hard. Failing was not an option, and I had made up my mind that I would do everything in my power to survive. I took it a semester at a time.

My experiences are directly connected to the work that I do now. I am charged with advising the governor, legislature and the various state departments about the needs of the Hispanic/Latino Community. Education plays a pivotal role in the efforts we take on. For example, last year MCAN partnered with us to hold our second annual Statewide Hispanic/Latino Graduation. Over 300 people attended our event where we recognized over 73 college graduates who were earning associates to Ph.D.’s. Our office has also engaged in fundraising for scholarships, and organized backpack drives to help young students start thinking about college. 


Author: Felipe Lopez Sustaita, Executive Director of the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan 
Posted: Oct. 15, 2018

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