Michigan's College Access Blog

Reflections from NCAN Conference Attendees

Last month, the National College Access Network (NCAN) held its annual conference in Detroit, Michigan. This year’s conference was the largest ever, drawing over 1,100 college access professionals from across the country to the Motor City. The Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) was proud to partner with NCAN to ensure this year’s conference was a success. Below are a few reflections from Michigan conference attendees:

Attending the National College Access Network conference in Detroit in September was a wonderful experience.  The ability to network with others from our own state as well as nationally was a highlight of the conference as were the sessions.  The positivity and “can do” attitude that was evident throughout the conference was invigorating and reinforcing of the work that we do. We are currently prioritizing and exploring a summer program; the session on “Creating a Summer Transition Program” provided me and my LCAN with practical information that we can adapt to our area.  Attending NCAN gave me the opportunity to gain great new information!

Mary Ann Behm, LMSW
Program Coordinator
Launch Manistee


As someone who is relatively new to the college access world, the NCAN Conference provided a welcoming environment which enabled me to network with folks who are invested in assisting students reach their post-secondary aspirations. I appreciated the opportunity to hear from many about the best practices, tools, and resources used to increase efficiencies while assisting students reduce the non-academic barriers as they navigate the college-going process. In the short time I have spent serving as a co-coordinator for the MSU College Advising Corps, I have been moved by the long-standing impact college advisers have had on the students they serve. I was further motivated and inspired when walking into the plenary sessions to find such a large network of individuals working towards the same goal. Although we still have progress to make to meet GOAL 2025, through this dedicated and energetic network, the possibilities are limitless.

Trish Caldwell
Program Coordinator
MSU College Advising Corps


This year, through the efforts of the amazing people at the Michigan College Access Network, I was given the opportunity to attend the National College Access Network Conference in Detroit. It was eye-opening to see the work that is being done all across the country to increase equity and access for all students, and to get a chance to learn more about the programs and opportunities that exist. The best part of the conference, for me, was in the conversations that I had with others at the conference - attendees and presenters alike.  I left the conference with a deeper appreciation of the vision and work that MCAN is doing in our state, and a renewed energy for the tasks at hand. As the only school counselor in a district with total student enrollment of over 1100 students, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, isolated and alone in the important work that needs to be done. But, attending the conference reminded me that there are so many smart, creative, talented and passionate people out there doing the work. I couldn't be more proud, or more humbled, to be a part of such a phenomenal movement that is working hard every day to make the world better, smarter, more equitable, and more free. 

Anissa Emery, M.A., Counseling
Oscoda Area High School


When you think of Detroit, most of us think of Motown or the well deserved nickname the “Motor-City”. However, after the National College Access Network Conference that was held there in September, Detroit will be known for a different type of engine! Detroit was the backdrop for a gathering of educators and committed college access professionals focused on driving postsecondary attainment for all! The NCAN conference personally gave me a chance to interact with others who are just as passionate about driving education forward for first generation college students, and those in underserved communities. The sessions offered were not only powerful and thought provoking but offered real time solutions and data, from, ‘African American Males and College Retention: Strategies for closing the Gap’’ to ‘Building a Data Bridge between High Schools and Colleges’. This was truly a must-attend event and I look forward to next year!

Jerry Price
Berrien County College Access Network


The NCAN Conference was amazing, filled with information I am taking back to my students! I chose heavy topics purposefully, such as session regarding working with undocumented students, how race impacts college access, interventions for college students that have high impact on success, and the success of Promise Zones in Michigan.  My heart was heavy at times, but each session I walked away with tangible resources and contact information of others involved in the work.  I work with students in grades 6-13 (Early College students) in Branch County as a career development counselor.  That includes helping students create and update EDPs, so it quickly becomes college advising as well.  I love helping students create their post-secondary plan and I am taking back several ideas to implement immediately from the NCAN Conference.

Jennifer Searls
Career Development Coordinator
Branch ISD


This was my first time attending an NCAN event, and I was extremely grateful to MCAN for providing me with scholarship funds to help with the cost of the event.  I was pleasantly overwhelmed at the energy and enthusiasm all the participants displayed towards helping students be successful in post-secondary education.  It was refreshing to meet NCAN members from all across the country, and hear about innovative programs.  The speakers were terrific and highly motivational.  I was particularly impressed with Jaime Casap from Google and his ideas for helping students think about problems they would like to solve instead of just careers they want to have and Michael Middleton from the University of Missouri discussing racial equity solutions at his campus.  I have pages and pages of notes and ideas, especially involving the use of data to evaluate programs.   I have already begun talking with students about thinking of post-secondary options as problems to solve.  I'm excited to start teaching lessons and specifically tailoring assignments in that area.  I have also started speaking more intelligently with parents about FAFSA!

Kim Twarowski
Counselor/System-Wide Counseling Department Chair
Shelby Junior High- Utica Community Schools


Author: Sarah Anthony, Director for Partnerships and Advocacy

Posted: Oct. 13, 2016


October is College Month: Major Changes in Michigan

Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a certificate of proclamation naming October 2016 as Michigan College Month!

October 1 kicks off Michigan’s inaugural Michigan College Month campaign, although it’s not the first time schools across Michigan will host coordinated college application events in their high schools. By now, many Michigan schools are experts in setting aside time and space during the school day to give graduating seniors the opportunity to apply to college, so it’s no surprise high schools were up to MCAN’s latest challenge: Michigan College Month.

Michigan College Month was developed in response to significant changes to the FAFSA process that will go into effect this year. For the first time ever, students will be able to file the FAFSA using tax information from two years (rather than one year) prior, meaning they don’t need to wait for their parents to file taxes before they can submit their financial aid applications. Further, the FAFSA will be available on October 1 rather than January 1.

MCAN was excited to respond quickly to these changes, which will remove significant barriers for students in Michigan and across the country. As soon as the announcement was made, we went back to the drawing board and came up with a plan to restructure our statewide initiatives strategy. In the past, MCAN coordinated an interconnected suite of events that mirrored the major milestones a student experienced in the college-going process over the course of their senior year. Schools hosted College Application Week in the fall, the College Cash Campaign in the winter, and College Decision Day in the spring. Starting in 2016, schools are being asked to combine their College Application Week and College Cash Campaign initiatives into Michigan College Month, in which schools will host concurrent college application and financial aid campaigns throughout October with the goal that by the end of the month, every graduating senior will have applied to college, applied for financial aid by filing the FAFSA, and applied for at least one scholarship. We’re also encouraging schools to host financial aid nights to supplement their in-school campaigns, which is key to the parent/family involvement needed for FAFSA completion.

We know this change is a bit overwhelming. October is an incredibly busy time already, and taking on both college and financial aid applications in the fall adds to an already full workload. However, we also know that adapting to early FAFSA and responding to these changes is critical – it’s the best way to serve our students, who need to apply for financial aid as early as possible. We are thrilled that high schools agree: nearly three quarters of our 360 schools have elected to participate in Michigan College Month, even though high schools were given the option to host a traditional College Application Week event during this transitional year.

We are incredibly grateful for our high school and college partners who are so willing to embark on the early FAFSA journey with us, and we can’t wait to see the innovative and impressive things schools implement throughout October.


Author: Christi Taylor, Director of Statewide Initiatives

Posted: Sept. 29, 2016 

2016 School Counseling Postsecondary Training Course: A counselor's perspective

This week marked the launch of the fourth annual School Counselor Postsecondary Planning Training Course, led by the Michigan College Access Network. Since 2012, MCAN has trained over 330 high school counselors in an effort to strengthen their ability to help students better prepare for their postsecondary path. The following highlights the experience of one high school counselor who completed the course in 2012. 

The MCAN postsecondary course has been the single most useful form of professional development that I have taken since I graduated from college. Like many counseling programs in the 90s, I had coursework related to many topics in counseling and even a class or two on career-exploration and school culture. However, information regarding college research, college match and financial aid were left as "on the job" training.  The MCAN class fills in those gaps. It provided me with the most current information for helping my students reach their future goals.

More importantly, the MCAN class was tremendously energizing and motivating.  Each session would leave my brain spinning with ideas for improving our counseling department services.  As a result of this course, we have completely revamped our parent programming, have added College Application Week, the College Cash Campaign, College Decision Day, a district-wide College Awareness Day and have monthly Post-Secondary Advisory Committee meetings which explore ways to help our students be more successful with the transition to their post-secondary educational programs.  We have been awarded with $10,000 in Reach Higher grant funds, but realistically we could have done all of the programming for under $1,000.  

This course has helped our department gel with our administration and has given us a clear focus for our work.  In addition, since post-secondary access is something that applies to all students, it has help reduce the feeling that our massive student caseloads prohibit effective programming.  We have changed our efforts to areas where we can be effective and it has helped impact our everyday work environment.  It has been a wonderful opportunity and I recommend it to every counselor I know.


Author: Erica Empie, Counselor, Hartland High School

Posted: Sept. 28, 2016 

The Power of Maritime Academy: An LCAN Coordinator’s Experience

Since 2012, the Michigan College Access Network has hosted Maritime Academy, a three-day, intensive dive into the Collective Impact framework as applied to Local College Access Networks.  This invite-only, intimate gathering of LCAN Coordinators from across the state and country are selected to join the staff for a comprehensive training. Last week marked the fourth year of Maritime Academy. The following is a testimonial from Laura Heohn, Livingston Career and College Access Network Coordinator and a 2015 Maritime graduate.

In August of 2015, I was hired as the Career and College Readiness Coordinator for Livingston County. One of the major responsibilities listed in this job description was to build and activate an LCAN. As a former school counselor, leading the creation of a Local College Access Network (LCAN) would fit well in my wheelhouse of interest and experience; I just didn’t know exactly what it was or where to start!

Prior to my first official day on the job, I was handed a manual called “Charting the Course”. I learned that we were in the midst of the planning process, but couldn’t seem to get a lot of traction to move the network forward. I was also asked to spend my first official three days of work in the lovely Traverse City at a training called Maritime Academy in the company of several strangers (the staff at Michigan College Access Network as well as other LCAN Coordinators), who would later become some of my strongest work allies.

Being an eternal nerd, I attempted to read the entire manual prior to arriving at my training on Sunday night. While this was somewhat helpful in giving the direction in what I would be doing, it also produced heart palpitations in fear of how it would be accomplished. This fear was mixed with relief, however, as “Charting the Course” walks the coordinator through a step-by-step process of accomplishing the tasks necessary to create the network. This was, to date, the first job I had that provided detailed instruction in how to be successful!

At Maritime Academy, we were coached through examples and hands on activities to teach us the details of successful Local College Access Network building. I learned I was an “acorn” (MCAN’s term for the newly-developed network) and was privileged to sit in the company of many “oak trees” who were willing to share their best practices as well as their mistakes. Maritime Academy is organized in such a way that you learn from each staff member at MCAN, and have the opportunity to receive guidance from them as well as build relationships critical to the success of our LCAN moving forward.

Upon returning to reality from the up north beauty, I came back to work at Livingston Educational Service Agency (LESA) energized and ready to hit the ground running. By September, we had built a fabulous Leadership Team with many powerful players from Livingston County collaborating around the necessity of post-secondary attainment and completion. In October, this team spent time scouring over data to mine our priority areas. In November, we developed a Common Agenda, and by February, we applied for the Implementation Grant, which was accepted.

Attending Maritime Academy my first day on the job was a huge attribute to the success of our network growth, so I am thankful that LESA had the vision to begin my position this way. Similar to taking golf lessons prior to going out on the course, there was no opportunity for me to pick up bad habits that would later have to be undone. I am happy to say that our grant was accepted and the Livingston Career and College Access Network has been officially activated! 


Guest Author: Laura Heohn, Livingston Career and College Access Network coordinator and 2015 MCAN Maritime Academy graduate

Posted: Sept. 1, 2016


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