Michigan's College Access Blog

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

Expanding Early College in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

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 about our features, please contact Emma Walter, MCAN's Strategy Assistant for External Engagement, by sending an email to Emma(a)micollegeaccess.org.

Last August, I started as an AmeriCorps VISTA, where I worked to promote a college-going culture and college success in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. My experience growing up, going to college, and working in different areas of the Upper Peninsula made me a good fit for the job. I understood the culture, and had just graduated from Northern Michigan University. Therefore, I knew the challenges of getting into, being successful, and staying in college.

A significant part of my work over the past year was dedicated to launching a new program called the Eastern Upper Peninsula (EUP) Early College Program. It is a partnership between all of the high schools in Chippewa, Luce, and Mackinac counties and Lake Superior State University (LSSU). This program allows area students to earn a high school diploma, and college credits, leading up to an associate's degree from LSSU tuition free!

How this works is students in 9th grade take their normal high school course load. If a student has an interest in the Early College program they take a one credit university seminar course during 10th grade, and complete an application to be eligible for the program. If accepted they will take a combination of college and high school classes in 11th and 12th grade. And at grade 13, students will complete their high school graduation requirement with one math or math related course and the remaining classes will be on LSSU's campus. This additional year of high school gives students more time to transition to post-secondary opportunities, but also cuts a year off of a traditional associate’s degree saving students money and time.

My main goal for the year was to create awareness and support of the Early College. I started off by creating resources like brochures, FAQ sheets, presentations, and a logo to begin building our public identity. In addition to those resources I established an online presence that people could use to learn more about what the program is, and what we were accomplishing. A big part of the success of the marketing came from my work with a group of LSSU students. Ralf Wilhelms, a Marketing professor at the college, allowed his students to work on marketing the program as their senior project.

In an effort to better connect with the communities, I went out to the schools and talked with students, parents, and administrators. Our Early College Coordinator, Geralyn Narkiewicz and I reached out to all of the area high schools with eligible students. In turn we were invited to open houses, parent-teacher conferences, and question and answer sessions to talk more directly with the communities. It was eye opening to see how informed students were about how beneficial the program could be for their futures.

Since the planning phases of the Early College, it has been centered on students who can really benefit from the program. Low income, first generation, and underrepresented groups are the focus, but anyone who is eligible can apply and be accepted into the program. The EUP Early College is a way to remove financial barriers that students may have and change the perception of who can earn a college degree.

All of the hard work that was done this year has culminated in our first cohort of 34 students from 7 different schools in the EUP. Over the past few months, we’ve also received word of increased interest in the program for next year’s group of students. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!


Author: Chelsea Hart, Early College Liaison, Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District
Michigan Nonprofit Association AmeriCorps VISTA Program
Posted: July 24, 2018 

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