Michigan's College Access Blog

Promoting College Access and Success in Partnership with a Community Foundation

Q&A with Ashley Kryscynski of Washtenaw Futures College Access Network 

Community Foundations are natural constituents of Local College Access Networks. They seek to improve the quality of life for all residents in a community, and typically promote educational advancement of students by managing a variety of scholarship programs. However what’s not so typical, is for a community foundation to align its scholarship funding language and efforts with that of an LCAN’s college access and success goals, and to pool money into a broad, new scholarship program. Fortunately for the students of Washtenaw County, that is exactly what happened in their community. 

For this Spotlight, MCAN interviewed Washtenaw Futures College Access Network Coordinator Ashley Kryscynski, to discuss the new Community Scholarship Program and Level the Playing Field Fund offered through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation

Q: Please describe the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation’s new Community Scholarship Program and Level the Playing Field Fund.

A: "The new Community Scholarship Program serves students from one or more of the following target populations in Washtenaw County, which also are target populations for Washtenaw Futures: (1) students from low-income families; (2) students of color; and/or (3) first-generation college students – meaning neither parent holds a college degree. The Level the Playing Field Fund is part of the Community Scholarship Program, and was made possible through a significant, anonymous donation. The fund requires that students have financial need and gives preference to students from the local public school systems. It also assigns each scholarship recipient with a College Success Coach." 

Q: What gave the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation the idea for its new Community Scholarship Program?

A: "In 2014, AAACF President and CEO Neel Hajra (who sits on the Washtenaw Futures Leadership Team) and his board wanted to think about how they could align their efforts to support college access and attainment with Washtenaw Futures’ and MCAN's goals. The Community Foundation was managing 45 scholarships that were available to students entering or already enrolled in college. However, through active engagement with Washtenaw Futures, they really understood that unaffordability after freshman year and lack of understanding how to navigate the college culture, were big barriers to college persistence and completion." 

Q: What prompted the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to align its scholarship funding language to that of Washtenaw Futures? How did Washtenaw Futures help facilitate this change?

 "AAACF has always had a focus on supporting the needs of our community and deeply understands their role in improving the quality of life for all residents in Washtenaw County. I think this particular alignment stemmed from our Washtenaw Futures Leadership Team digging into local disaggregated data and then having intense conversations around the many barriers to not only accessing college, but also completing it. 

The Community Foundation recognized that, across the board, it already does a great job of sending students to college; however, once they looked more deeply into the data, they saw that many students are not persisting or completing – especially low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color. As a community that is focused on equity, this glaring disparity is impossible to ignore. Washtenaw Futures became a partner in helping the AAACF navigate conversations, more deeply understand the issue and barriers, and recommend ways in which a scholarship program can highly impact the lives of local students."

Q: Tell us about the College Success Coach pilot program and its goals.

A: "All recipients of AAACF’s Level the Field Playing Fund will have a College Success Coach through Washtenaw Futures. The Success Coach will assist in supporting a student’s transition to higher education, help students to access the many opportunities available on their college campuses, as well as serve as a general resource for students throughout their college experience.   

The idea for the College Success Coach stemmed from knowledge that first-generation, low-income students and students of color often face difficulty in understanding how to navigate the college culture. The concept is based on our existing College Coaching Corps partnership with Eastern Michigan University. Persisting through college takes more than just having the financial means, and so AAACF's Community Scholarship Program opens the door to financial, social, and academic support for students who, as indicated in data, struggle the most in college.

With funding from AAACF and Washtenaw Community College, Washtenaw Futures will manage and oversee the College Success Coach position; Washtenaw Community College will be the backbone organization for the position; and Eastern Michigan University will provide training and the applicant pool."

Q: Will the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation’s more specific, pre-existing college scholarships continue to be offered in addition to the new Level the Playing Field Fund?

A: "Yes, the Level the Playing Field Fund will go toward supporting and expanding the Community Scholarship Program, and then the other 45 more specific scholarships will continue to be offered. The most significant change in how the AAACF manages their scholarship programming will be that they will no longer accept funds for new specific scholarships; rather donors will be encouraged to establish named funds within the Community Scholarship Fund or make contributions to existing funds, like the Level the Playing Field Fund."

Q: How does involvement of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation help bring attention to, and advance the efforts of Washtenaw Futures?

A: "I think AAACF’s involvement bringing attention to and advancing our efforts has been a tremendous help! It shines a spotlight on the fact that not all students in Washtenaw County are attending college (a very common misconception in a community with several colleges and universities). It also highlights that the path of getting to and completing college is incredibly challenging and complicated. Despite what many people think, Washtenaw County also is home to many students living in poverty, students who have never been to a college campus, and students whose parents have never been to college or whose parents started and never completed a program. These students are often overlooked because of the prestigious awards and recognition our community receives, but they absolutely still need our support. The new scholarship program reminds our community that our work is not done."

Q: What steps do you recommend for other Local College Access Networks that may seek to form a similar alliance with their community foundations, and that want to broaden local college scholarship opportunities that better encourage access and persistence?

A: "I think communities are oftentimes so focused on building a scholarship program like the Kalamazoo Promise, that there’s a “go big or go home” mentality. We tend to worry that we can’t do everything all at once, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something we can do in the meantime. This Community Scholarship Program is a building block for our community that already has caused us to think differently, shift the conversation, and start finding out what works for us while directly impacting students."


Author: Sarah Anthony
Posted: May 25, 2016

Decision Day Blog Contest Feature, Part Five

This is the fifth and final blog in a series of five installments written or filmed by high school seniors, that explain how college will be a "game changer." The blogs were selected from entries to MCAN's Decision Day Blog Contest, which celebrates the college-selection decision happening for thousands of students throughout the state of Michigan. A winning entry has been featured on MCAN's blog every Tuesday, beginning April 26 and through May 24.


How I Hope College Will Be a Game Changer

By Abby Smith, Maple Valley High School

With college comes an opportunity for you to create a new image. It is a time when everyone has a chance to start fresh with a clean slate. I've heard of many people who didn't take high school seriously or enjoy it all that much, but they still turned out alright (wink wink). One of those is my dad, who is now a successful project manager! College is a whole new world. 

I don't think that I've ever been overly excited about the topic of college. Up to this year I did not really feel like college was my thing. I always wanted to skip ahead, go travel, and try to make it on my own. I had looked at college like I had looked at school: try to fit in, try to make friends and most of all, try to get good grades.

However, this is NOT how I am going to look at college. Instead, it will look more like this: try to fit in  live authenticallytry to make friends  be open to new things (and make friends), try to get good grades  and put learning>good grades. I put learning above good grades because I've realized that having an "A" in my class hasn't necessarily meant that I've been fully applying myself. As I've reached my senior year I have become more appreciative of the classes that taught me more; good letter grades don't mean as much. 

game chang·er

an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.
"a potential game changer that could revitalize the entire US aerospace industry"

Along with school realizations, I have also realized how much of an impact my high school and my small town have made on my life. The people I've met, the opportunities I've been given, and the books that I've (been forced or recommended to) read have inspired me to want to be the best person that I can be. I've learned that I want to be a well-rounded person and have opinions on lots of things. I want to meet new people and hear new stories. I want to have more "ah-hah!" moments, which occur when something I've previously learned clicks and makes more sense. And most of all, I want to grow my faith with God and be excited to share it with others.

All of those things that I just mentioned, well...Those are my hopes for college. I've always enjoyed high school, but there have been few times where I have felt uncomfortable. This sounds like a weird request, but I really do hope that I experience more uncomfortable and vulnerable moments. I've found that those are the times when I have grown the most and have figured out more of who I want to become. 

Every section of my life, both good and bad, has been a part of my giant puzzle. The good parts are the pieces that fit together just the way you expected them to.  And the bad parts are like the pieces that deceive you and look like they fit, but don't. However, they all end up connecting and creating a masterpiece.

I am excited to say that I am actually looking forward to college. Bigger city, more people, and unlimited food? Yes, please! I know that I am going to change as a person, but I hope that the change is good... I hope my college will put me on a road to success and prepare me for the flat tires, crazy drivers, and Michigan potholes. I hope that I learn lots, gain opportunities, and adjust to vulnerability. This is how I hope college will be a game changer.


Posted: May 24, 2016 

Decision Day Blog Contest Feature, Part Four

This blog is the fourth in a series of five installments written or filmed by high school seniors, that explain how college will be a "game changer." The blogs were selected from entries to MCAN's Decision Day Blog Contest, which celebrates the college-selection decision happening for thousands of students throughout the state of Michigan. A winning entry will be featured on MCAN's blog every Tuesday, beginning April 26 and through May 24.


How I Hope Life at Cornerstone University Will be a Game Changer

By Kodie Hansen, Vestaburg Community High School



Posted May 17, 2016

Developing a Sustainable Network

Q&A with Launch Manistee’s Mary Ann Behm 


In March, Michigan College Access Network hosted its second annual College Access Impact Awards. One of the organizations honored was Launch Manistee Local College Access Network. Launch Manistee received the Flagship Award for developing a sustainable network that provides leadership in the creation of effective alliances focused on postsecondary attainment. For this Spotlight, MCAN interviewed Launch Manistee Program Coordinator Mary Ann Behm, to learn more about how the network evolved from an interested group of people, to a driving force for continued education in Manistee County.

Q: How was Launch Manistee established?

A: “At its beginning, Launch Manistee started thanks to the efforts of a diverse group of interested and involved community members who wanted to build and sustain a culture of education in Manistee County. They were convened by the Manistee County Community Foundation, and their efforts were supported by a 2012 planning grant provided by MCAN. The following year, MCAN awarded Launch Manistee an implementation grant. The network expanded its focus to incorporate a ‘cradle-to-career’ philosophy in order to promote life-long learning. I was hired as the network’s full-time program coordinator in June 2014.”   

Q: Can you summarize the general steps that have been taken to develop a sustainable Network?

A:“Launch Manistee adopted a collective impact frameworkat its inception and has worked diligently to incorporate the essential elements. We took the time to make sure that all of our pieces were aligned so we truly had a common vision and goals. A common agenda sets our values and mission, goals, and metrics or shared measurement. We have two goals related to our vision, and all of our objectives and metrics lead to the attainment of those goals. This keeps us focused on using data to inform decision making.  Learn more about the collective impact framework by downloading MCAN’s latest edition of Charting the Course.

The backbone support infrastructure is one of the strengths of Launch Manistee – we have an active and engaged cross-sector leadership team, a core staff dedicated to the work, and a supportive and active anchor entity that is critical to the success of the network. The combination of these elements has been essential for our long-term sustainability.”

Q: What efforts are ongoing to maintain the Network’s sustainability?

A: “Launch Manistee is fortunate to have a leadership team that provides strategic oversight and direction, and sets priorities. We have three action teams that work collaboratively on mutually reinforcing activities; they align our organizations and coordinate our action plans. The action plans always involve commitment and action by several of the action team members.

 We continue to build on our network through use of tools and strategies such as network mapping and network evaluation; and adding to our leadership team and action teams. Launch Manistee is constantly evolving, evaluating, and growing - which boosts our success.”

Q: It seems that Launch Manistee has embraced “continuous communication,” a key term throughout Charting the Course. Can you elaborate on how continuous communication is embedded within the LCAN?  

A: “I do feel that the concept of continuous communication has contributed to Launch Manistee’s success and is an ever-evolving process. Moving through the process of building and sustaining Launch Manistee has helped communication through building trust and a solid shared understanding of the vision and purpose of the Network. I believe that our continuous communication success refers to the strong relationships that have been built and maintained between the various organizations that comprise our leadership team and action teams. This communication takes place among the members but more importantly, reaches out into the community at large. In turn, this brings more participation to the network.”

Q: Tell me a bit about Launch Manistee and how it achieves community buy-in.

A: “We have been extremely fortunate to have great community buy-in and support for Launch Manistee. This is largely due to the three things:

  1. Strong partners that we have on the leadership teams and action teams who consistently share information with others about Launch’s vision and activities;
  2. Action plans and initiatives that have been achieved and have impacted the community; and
  3. Marketing and strong communication strategies around Launch Manistee. Opportunities to speak at community events, present to school boards of education, or participate with business activities are always welcomed and seized upon as another means to ‘spread the word.’

Launch Manistee also has a fantastic relationship with its local newspaper, the Manistee News Advocate. The relationship is one of mutual respect and support. The Manistee News Advocate works really hard to stay current and report out in a timely manner after events. The newspaper is one of Launch Manistee’s biggest cheerleaders.”

Q: What advice can you give to other LCANs that might be starting out and/or seeking to increase their impact and sustainability?

A: "Build Relationships - never underestimate the power of taking the time to build relationships in your network and in your community. Network - find the game changing people in your community. Get them involved and use their expertise! Build a strong foundation - follow the framework that is set through MCAN’s Charting the Course; use the process and get your systems and network together to build a strong foundation. Celebrate – make sure that you stop and take the time to review your outcomes and the positive impact that has been made on students and the community at large.” 

To learn more about Launch Manistee, we encourage you to check out their website at www.LaunchManistee.org or to view their most recent Annual Report.


Author: Ryan Fewins-Bliss, deputy director for community investment
Posted: May 11, 2016

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