Michigan's College Access Blog

Helping Veterans Get to and through College

An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 veterans will leave the military and move to Michigan in the next five years. In an effort to support veterans transitioning to civilian life and to aid in their pursuit of a college education, Michigan College Access Network partnered with the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency to create the Michigan Veteran Education Initiative. This new program provides one-on-one support to help the thousands of veterans who enroll in Michigan’s educational institutions, by providing outreach services, support and information.

 MVEI1 2  MVEI1 3
Veteran Resource Representatives participating in the Tight Lines for Troops fishing tournament 
 A Veteran Resource Representative at work in her office

The MVEI launched in the fall of 2014, with 13 veteran resource representatives hired to work at 15 college campuses around the state. These representatives are housed on campus and interact with student veterans, assisting them as they complete benefits applications and navigate the higher education and financial aid processes. MVAA and MCAN hope the extra guidance will encourage veterans to pursue a higher education and provide them with valuable networking opportunities when they return to civilian life. Veteran resource representatives are an important component of efforts to foster greater success for our veterans who attend institutions of higher learning. The representatives also help demonstrate that Michigan’s educational institutions are national leaders in supporting student veterans.

MCAN and MVAA are excited to share success stories and data from our first year of support. Between January and May 2015, 475 veterans were individually served by veteran resource representatives. The top five reasons for veterans seeking assistance have been:

  • VA benefits;
  • Academic issues;
  • Financial issues;
  • Student life; and
  • Career guidance.

In addition, 136 veterans received assistance with benefit claims that they earned as a result of military service. These benefits bring revenue into the state of Michigan and support veterans in meeting their higher education and life goals.

Recently, veterans were surveyed about their level of satisfaction with support provided by veteran resource representatives. Of the respondents, 97 percent felt the VRR met or exceeded their expectations. Here are a few quotes from veterans who were asked about the best part of having a VRR on campus:

“Someone is always there looking out for veterans.”

“I now have help navigating complicated government and educational systems.”

“I could not have done it without them.”

There have been many success stories through the VRR meetings. This one is an example of how one interaction can be life changing:  

A veteran was using student loans because he wasn't eligible for benefits due to a general discharge. The discharge was upgraded. His truck was fixed by the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund ($2,300), and he was signed up with VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program (Chapter 31) and received backdated pay for one year ($19, 152). The veteran was approved, through his Chapter 31, to continue on with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. The veteran also will receive $11,200 from previous Pell Grants, and $22,000 paid back to the higher education institution. The veteran’s life is changed; he will be able to graduate college free of debt, with an engineering degree.

Veteran resource representatives are documenting stories like this every day. MVAA and MCAN couldn’t be more proud of our hard-working veteran resource representatives or more thankful for our college partners helping make this initiative possible. The list of college campuses that participate in the MVEI includes: Baker College-Flint; Ferris State University; Grand Valley State University; Grand Rapids Community College; Jackson College; Lansing Community College; MIAT College of Technology; Michigan State University; Mid-Michigan Community College; Kirtland Community College; North Central Michigan College; Northern Michigan University; Oakland Community College; Spring Arbor University; and Western Michigan University.

MCAN and MVAA are excited to announce the expansion of the MVEI to include two more veteran resource representatives. Applications are open for new partner institutions until July 6, 2015. Colleges and universities are encouraged to review the cover letter and application for additional information, which can be found on our MVEI webpage.

Jaimie Hutchison headshotAuthor: Jaimie Hutchison, MVEI program manager

Posted: June 25, 2015

School Counselor Postsecondary Planning Training: A Crazy Idea That Works

Program Spotlight: School Counselor Postsecondary Planning Training

For the second year in a row, I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of school counselors from across the state of Michigan. Last September, 150 school counselors began an eight-month journey to increase their knowledge in postsecondary education planning and college advising. More than 120 of those counselors found the drive and the time in their hectic schedules to complete the entire training experience. I am inspired and encouraged by their dedication to serve their students - ensuring that all students are provided with the guidance, resources, and assistance they need to pursue education after high school.

 PSPlanningTraining 800x473
 The first cohort from MCAN's School Counselor Postsecondary Planning Training program

MCAN is proud to be serving school counselors. In 2013, MCAN launched a comprehensive training course for school counselors. Now wrapping up the second year, more than 200 school counselors in Michigan are armed with updated information and new strategies to help students navigate the college-going process.

The positive feedback from course participants motivates me to ensure that MCAN continues to prioritize this work and maintain the funding to provide this type of training at little to no cost.

  • 95 percent  of school counselors who participated in the course felt the course better prepared them to advocate for their students;
  • 91 percent feel better prepared to advocate for themselves as a leader in their building;  
  • 94 percent have changed or added to their curriculum as a result of their experience in the course; and 
  • 95 percent of respondents believe the course was beneficial and would recommend the course to a colleague. 

This incredible feedback means we not only are providing a top-notch course, but also that school counselors agree with MCAN’s strongly held belief that:
School counselors are well-poised to lead the charge in ensuring students are socially, academically, logistically, and financially prepared for postsecondary education and uniquely positioned to change the postsecondary education trajectories for all students in their buildings.   

One-hundred-and-fifty seats have already been filled for the 2015-16 training course. I couldn’t be more excited to deeply engage a new group of counselors in this work. 

Many people thought MCAN had a crazy idea several years ago when we set a goal to train hundreds of Michigan school counselors in postsecondary education planning and college advising. The late Steve Jobs said it best: “…the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

To learn more about MCAN’s school counselor training course, visit www.micollegeaccess.org/events/school-counselor-training.


Jamie Jacobs headshot 2013Author: Jamie Jacobs, director of professional development for the Michigan College Access Network

Posted: June 10, 2015

Decision Day 2015: Moving the Needle and Reaching Higher

Part Three

This blog is part three in a series that highlights the efforts of three Local College Access Networks and their schools in hosting College Decision Day 2015, in which 110 schools from throughout the state participated. To view a collection of Decision Day feedback and comments collected from social media, check out our Storify page. Schools, LCANs and students were asked to show their Decision Day support by simply wearing a college t-shirt and posting a picture to social media using the hashtags #DecisionDay and #ReachHigher. 

Launch Manistee College Access Network

 Brethren DD 5 picmonkeyed 1024x763
Brethren High School Students celebrate College Decision Day  

Launch Manistee has bragging rights. The LCAN successfully rallied all six high schools within its boundaries to participate in College Decision Day (and two other statewide initiatives) for the first time this year. Program Coordinator Mary Ann Behm says efforts began in August, when encouraging registration for College Application Week, and then continued through the College Cash Campaign and Decision Day. During College Application Week, 96 percent of seniors across Manistee County applied to one or more colleges. "As a county, we had so much enthusiasm and energy going into that initiative [College Application Week]," says Behm.  "We had our first ever FAFSA Completion Event in Manistee County during February, where we had participation from the counselors and financial aid departments of our three closest colleges." Building on this momentum, Launch Manistee then moved its focus to Decision Day.

"The support from the LCAN leadership team was extremely important," says Behm." They were genuinely enthusiastic about the idea and concept of Decision Day. I also discussed it with the area superintendents at their meetings to gain support from the top down." Behm also garnered support from the community, and obtained donations from local organizations such as the Manistee Rotary Club, and a screen-print shop, which donated event funds and Decision Day-themed t-shirts to 234 seniors in Manistee County. School counselors took charge by planning their own activities within the schools.

The efforts of the Launch Manistee leadership team, counselors, and Behm seem to have paid off, as these testimonials from excited staff members indicate:

"We are having a blast! ...the seniors are in such an excited mood! They have gone to talk to our middle school students...purely their idea, and are loving the experience of sharing with the youngsters. We head into the gym for our rally at 1:35. Kids are all in their shirts...took lots of pictures!"

-Staff Member, Brethren High School

"It went very well. Our students discussed what they are planning to do after high school with other students. Everyone listened extremely well and it sparked some great discussion regarding futures and planning."

-Staff Member, CASMAN Academy

Behm expects that next year, Decision Day in Manistee County will be even bigger and better. She intends to begin planning earlier in the year, and recommends that other schools start planning at the beginning of the year too, so as to avoid generating extra work during spring break and testing time periods. "Maximize it. Plan it earlier," she says. "Next year, we'll have learned from each other and other schools who have done it." Still, Launch Manistee's inaugural effort resulted in six high schools participating in all three statewide initiatives; they should certainly be proud of that.

MCAN Tip: To save you time and effort, we are asking schools to sign up for every initiative they’d like to participate in, using this survey. Schools may sign up for as few or many as they would like.

Christ Taylor headshot 2013Author: Christi Taylor, director of statewide initiatives

Posted: June 4, 2015

Decision Day 2015: Moving the Needle and Reaching Higher

Part Two

This blog is part two in a series that highlights the efforts of three Local College Access Networks and their schools in hosting College Decision Day 2015, in which 110 schools from throughout the state participated. To view the first blog post in the series, click here. To view a collection of Decision Day feedback and comments collected from social media, check out our Storify page. Schools, LCANs and students were asked to show their Decision Day support by simply wearing a college t-shirt and posting a picture to social media using the hashtags #DecisionDay and #ReachHigher. 

Detroit College Access Network  

DCSD M.Obama on Stage
College-bound students from greater Detroit are recognized by Michelle Obama on College Decision Day.

To say that schools within the Detroit College Access Network had a successful 2015 College Decision Day is an understatement. In Detroit alone, more than 2,000 high school seniors from over 40 high schools celebrated their postsecondary future. The culmination of year-long college-going efforts resulted in a visit from First Lady Michelle Obama, who spoke to Detroit's college-bound seniors on Friday, May 1 at Wayne State University. R&B Singer Ciara and University of Michigan Football Coach Jim Harbaugh also were present and helped drum up positive publicity for the event.

"I have received so many 'thank-you' emails telling me what a powerful day it was, how they [college-access professionals] felt like the atmosphere and culture was so great," says Ashley Johnson, DCAN coordinator. "Students were sitting and engaged for up to three hours at a time, talking with fellow students who were going to the same college." Johnson also cites the work of college representatives who were present, as having a great impact on the event. "They looked at lists to help ensure students had completed all of the steps that follow notification of college admission - paying education deposits, official acceptance, and ensuring the students weren't facing roadblocks to completing the requirements."

DCAN includes more than 50 schools in the Detroit area. Its efforts to rally College Decision Day participation started at the beginning of the school year. During College Application week, Johnson says DCAN encouraged its schools to start thinking about the College Cash Campaign and Decision Day events.  "Having everyone see that it's a series of events for seniors - that these three events help students enroll in college - is helpful," says Johnson. 

Because of the number of schools it supports, DCAN seeks to make the most impact by providing high quality training that equips counselors and college advisers with the tools to build a college-going culture among students. Johnson says that building support within the schools is not difficult, thanks to having individuals on DCAN's leadership team who are college-access experts, and already invested in the cause. She also credits the use of hard data, which is essential to encouraging school participation. Johnson says that DCAN collects data for every campaign it runs. It’s a tactic that pays off, as it helps gain buy-in from school leaders. Johnson suspects that once the college enrollment data for the class of 2015 becomes available, it will be even more compelling.

Johnson encourages other LCANs to help their schools celebrate College Decision Day. "This [College Decision Day] gave Detroit an opportunity. A chance to take work beyond the school building and get the community involved," she says. "People want to help. It's a selling point and a great way to involve the business community. Detroit students are college bound."

To learn more about some of the Detroit students who are college bound, watch this YouTube video, which highlights six Detroit students who share their stories of challenges, determination, and of chasing their dreams of going to college. #CollegeBoundDET

Christ Taylor headshot 2013Author: Christi Taylor, director of statewide initiatives, Michigan College Access Network

Date: June 2, 2015

Michigan College Access Network | 200 N Washington Square, Lansing, MI 48933 (map) | (517) 316-1713 Contact Us | Site Map | Terms and Privacy