Michigan's College Access Blog

A Look at GEAR UP in Michigan

National GEAR UP Week logo

National GEAR UP Week 2015 is September 21-25, and in honor of the week, we wanted to shine the light on Michigan's GEAR UP program. In 1998, Congress created GEAR UP or "Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs". The mission of GEAR UP is to significantly increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.

MIGEARUPMichigan is one of thirty-nine U.S. states that implements GEAR UP, and runs one of the largest programs nationwide. Michigan's GEAR UP (or MI GEAR UP) serves over 11,000 students and works to create a college-going culture through 15 partner colleges.

The key word for this college access program is "Early." Unlike other efforts to improve academic achievement, MI GEAR UP implements a cohort model and begins working with students as early as middle school and remains actively involved in their academic lives through the first year of college. The idea is to make low‐income children aware of their potential – to open their eyes to opportunities and help them perform to their maximum ability.

MI GEAR UP provides a suite of programs and services such as tutoring, mentoring, rigorous academic, preparation, financial education and college scholarships to improve access to higher education for low income, underrepresented and disadvantaged first‐generation students and their families. 

For more information about GEAR UP in Michigan visit www.migearup.org or www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid/0,4636,7-128-60969_61016-274567--,00.htm

Sarah Anthony headshot 2013Author: Sarah Anthony, director of finance and strategic partnership, Michigan College Access Network
Posted: September 16, 2015

Looking at the College Going Culture of Michigan Adults

As part of a continuing partnership between the Michigan College Access Network and the Institute of Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, several questions regarding Michigan adults' perceptions on the College Going Culture within the state were included as part of this year's State of the State Survey. The sample for this survey included 966 individuals, surveyed between March 2015 and June 2015, who are Michigan adults age 18 or older. Using the results from this survey, MCAN has developed a report including the results of Michigan adults' responses to three key questions:

Question #1: For a young person in Michigan to be successful in the labor market and in their career, how important is it to have a college education?

Question #2: How likely is it that your child will get a college education?

Question #3: At today's levels of tuition and financial aid, a college education is reasonably affordable for people in Michigan.

The results from the survey reveal an important fact regarding Michigan adults' perceptions about higher education; Michigan adults definitively agree that a college education is important (96%), and also believe their children are more likely than not to attend college (93%) despite their belief that a college education is not reasonably affordable today (69.7%).

Considering these survey results, it is important to understand that Michigan citizens believe the work of college access organizations such as MCAN and the various Local College Access Networks around the state is indeed critical work. At the same time, there is important work to be done to ensure postsecondary opportunities are more affordable for Michigan residents, and information about financial aid is disseminated more efficiently to all students and families. We encourage LCANs and college access professionals to share this brief in their community and to discuss the regional data. Some of the questions that may be useful in your work as a college access professional or advocate include the following:

  • How can I help students to understand the breadth of postsecondary opportunities in Michigan?
  • What are best practices in helping students to identify sources of financial assistance for postsecondary opportunities?
  • How can I work with families to ensure they are confident in their child's ability to embark upon and successfully navigate the college going process?
  • What other allies do I have in my community who are dedicated to college access work? How can I best align these individuals based upon our common interest?

We here at MCAN are committed to improving college access and success for Michigan residents throughout the state. With the results of this survey, we are once again assured that there is work to be done and a citizenry desirous of improvement.

Want to take a closer look at the State of the State Survey results? Check out State of the State Survey: A Check-in: Looking at the College Going Culture of Michigan Adults, available on MCAN's website.

Jamie Jacobs headshot 2013Author: Jamie Jacobs, director of professional development at MCAN
Posted: September 2, 2015

Birthday Celebrations and Reflection

Brandy and Kirby

August is a very special month to me. I was born in August. Five years ago, MCAN officially launched as its own non-profit organization. Last year, I married the love of my life. And this August? I welcomed our first born – Kirby Daniel Repko.

During the pregnancy, I was often asked, "Is this your first?" I would joke that Kirby was my first human child, but that MCAN would always be my first baby. Now, nothing can compare to Kirby, but starting a nonprofit and watching it grow is more common to pregnancy and labor than one might think!

That immediate feeling of joy, excitement and panic when you receive confirmation your nonprofit status is approved or you're officially pregnant? Check

Growing pains? Check

Late night projects to submit a grant in time or finish building a crib? Check

Surrounding yourself with a strong support network? Check

Celebrating all victories - big and small? Check

Starting a nonprofit is no easy task. I remember the early days sitting alone in the MCAN office on Chestnut Street. Now, I'm surrounded by seven incredibly talented and dedicated colleagues. Each team member has pushed us farther and helped improve Michigan's college access strategy. In the past five years we've:

  • Awarded more than $4 million dollars to local communities to implement innovative college access strategies.
  • Launched a statewide initiatives strategy to include College Application Week, College Cash Campaign and College Decision Day.
  • Improved training and support for high school counselors through grants and a postsecondary planning training course.
  • Embraced collective impact framework, resulting in the production of Charting the Course: A community's guide for increasing educational attainment through the lens of collective impact.
  • Hosted numerous professional development opportunities through the annual conference, webinars and LCAN convenings.
  • Supported the growth of college advisers in Michigan through AdviseMI, Michigan State University College Advising Corps and the University of Michigan College Advising Corps.
  • Watched Michigan's college attainment rate increase from 36.4% to 38.4%

MCAN 5th birthday

And this is only a few of our accomplishments! I'm extremely proud of our hard working staff and board. MCAN would not be where it is today without them. I can't wait to see what the next five years will bring.

Happy birthday MCAN!


I won't leave you without the traditional baby facts and adorable pictures. Kirby was born on Saturday, August 1, 2015 at 6:34 a.m. He was 6 lbs, 10 oz and 19 inches long. The MCAN staff is already busy spoiling Kirby and stopping by for visits. Kirby even has his first acceptance letter to college courtesy of our good friend Christopher Tremblay at Western Michigan University.

Thank you to everyone for your well wishes!

Kirby collage


Author: Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network
Posted: August 19, 2015

MCAN Launches AdviseMI, New College Adviser Program for Michigan High Schools

As part of the Michigan College Access Network’s commitment to #ReachHigher and achieve Goal 2025,MCAN launched a new college advising program called AdviseMI. The program seeks to help more Michigan students pursue postsecondary education by placing recent college graduates as advisers in communities across Michigan, particularly those with low college-going rates and low adult educational attainment rates.

Training kicks off this week for the 40 newly-hired advisers who are recent graduates from 12 partnering colleges. Collectively, they will serve 50 high schools in every corner of the state and 35,000 students, 8,000 of whom are seniors. Working alongside high school counselors and other school staff, these advisers will support students as they make the transition from high school to a postsecondary education institution.

How did MCAN get to this point today?

It started as an MCAN board of directors’ discussion in September 2014. Michigan was seeing great success from the highly-effective College Advising Corps through Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, and MCAN was regularly contacted by high schools asking how more advisers could be made available across the state. MCAN’s board wanted to explore other options to meet the high need and high demands, so they encouraged MCAN staff to explore the possibility of launching a strategy to increase the number of dedicated college advisers in Michigan.

My staff and I dove right into the challenge and identified over 350 high schools in Michigan that had either above a 42 percent Free-and-Reduced lunch rate (state average) or served at least 400 students who were on Free-and-Reduced lunch. We wanted to make sure there were lots of schools with need – and doing this analysis confirmed our hunch.

We quickly arranged a meeting with representatives from the Governor’s Office and State Budget Office to gauge interest of public funding to support a major college advising initiative. From the beginning, we conceptualized this program as a public-private partnership. We suggested that the State put forward 1/3 of the necessary funds and challenge MCAN to raise the remaining 2/3 from non-state sources.

The next few months were spent designing the program and setting goals. While attending the White House College Opportunity Day of Commitment in early December 2014, MCAN committed to hiring an additional 40 college advisers to serve an additional 50 high schools. This goal allowed us to double the impact of efforts already made by the Michigan State University College Advising Corps and the University of Michigan College Advising Corps.

Next, we secured funding through an AmeriCorps grant opportunity and approached college and university presidents across the state to explore the possibility of a partnership. This partnership asked the colleges to provide small financial support while MCAN committed to hiring recent college graduates from the partner colleges to serve as advisers. Ultimately, MCAN established partnerships with 12 colleges and universities.

By February 2015, it was becoming more real as we opened the RFP process for high schools to apply to host an adviser. We received more applications than we could support, making the process competitive. The selected high schools were announced in April during our annual conference.

MCAN staff quickly turned into recruitment mode for recent college graduates from our partner colleges and universities. From May to June 2015, with the support of our high school and college partners, MCAN hired 40 advisers as well as two co-directors that will lead the new program. Training for the newly-hired advisers kicks off this week, and then the advisers will report to their buildings and begin serving in late August 2015.

Remember our challenge by the State? MCAN met the challenge and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder recommended an additional $1 million in his most recent budget for programs intended to increase the number of college advisers in schools.

My staff and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see our hard work coming to life. We were aggressive and kept our eye on the ultimate goal of helping more students as they make the transition from high school to a postsecondary education institution.

Follow the AdviseMI college advisers during training on Instagram: @AdviseMI or #AdviseMI.

For more information, visit micollegeaccess.org/statewide-initiatives/advisemi.

Brandy Johnson headshot 2013Author: Brandy Johnson, Michigan College Access Network executive director

Posted: July 8, 2015

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