Michigan's College Access Blog

Decision Day 2015: Moving the Needle and Reaching Higher

This blog is part one in a series that will highlight 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.


College Decision Day 2015, which was held on and around May 1, celebrated the college-going accomplishments of high school seniors from throughout the state. Michigan entered the national spotlight for its efforts, thanks to the First Lady's Reach Higher campaign, in which Detroit was selected to host a citywide College Decision Day (also referred to as College Signing Day). The visit from Michelle Obama brought much-deserved attention to the college-preparation efforts of not only Detroit schools' staff and students, but college-access professionals and students from throughout the state.

Schools that hosted College Decision Day did so as a grand finale to college-preparation efforts that took place throughout the school year, which included statewide initiatives such as College Application Week and the College Cash Campaign. To learn more about how schools celebrated, and the role Local College Access Networks play in encouraging College Decision Day participation, Michigan College Access Network spoke to representatives from three LCANs whose schools participated in, and/or hosted Decision Day events. Today’s blog highlights the efforts of the Capital Area College Access Network.

Capital Area College Access Network

Capital Area College Access Network Executive Director Michele Strasz knows the importance of recognizing students' postsecondary admission achievements. "For many of these students, Decision Day activities are the only community celebration of graduation these students receive," says Strasz. "It's a big deal for many of these students. This is it."


Lansing-area students celebrate 
College Decision Day

The LCAN's Decision Day participation grew from three high schools in 2014 to six schools in 2015, which now include Eastern, Everett, and Sexton high schools from within the city of Lansing; and Holt, Waverly, and Webberville high schools. Strasz says that initially, she met with the five college advisers who work in the schools to walk through their tentative plans for celebrating Decision Day, and learn how the LCAN could support their efforts. While counselors and college advisors spearheaded the implementation of activities, Cap CAN assisted with preparation, such as coming up with ideas and contacts for obtaining donations for giveaways, preparing press releases for the media, and assisting with setup and organization. The schools' varied celebrations included a week of activities culminating in a barbecue; a senior breakfast that included a surprise visit from Michigan State Spartan mascot Sparty; and in the case of Everett High School, College Decision Day activities that involved high school students in grades 9-12.

"At Everett, underclassmen were able to experience Decision Day and see that the seniors were having a great time, and that they should look forward to it and think about college for themselves," says Strasz. She also noted that Everett's high school-wide Decision Day activities were funded in part by the R.E. Olds Foundation, which awarded a grant to support College Decision Day activities. The high school's event included a small college and career fair that offered student panels on making college and career decisions; information about financial aid opportunities; and featured some local employers and college representatives. The day culminated with a senior luncheon that included congratulatory remarks from Lansing School District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul and R.E. Olds Foundation Trustee Diana Tarpoff, who both posed for photographs with the students. Strasz credits both the Foundation and Lansing School District, with providing strong leadership within the network.

When asked how other LCANs might maximize their own College Decision Day celebrations, Strasz recommends that LCANs and their schools begin planning Decision Day activities far in advance, and view it as part of a continuum of efforts from College Application Week onward. Doing so makes planning more manageable, and the bulk of work won’t take place during spring testing season and other end-of-year activities.

Despite the extra work involved in planning for Decision Day, Strasz believes it’s worth it. "A lot of times, young people don't have the support at home we might hope for, so feeling community support and love is very important to them," says Strasz. Fortunately for students within Cap CAN's boundaries, there are a number of supporters at both the school and community level to cheer them on and encourage their college-going efforts.

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

Posted: May 27, 2015

Achieving the Dream, Part 4

Bay College – Student Success, Community Success, Culture of Success

This blog is the fourth and final installment in a series that highlights the work of colleges that received an Achieving the Dream grant from the Michigan College Access Network. The grant assists with creating, expanding and sustaining research-based interventions that help more students, particularly low-income students and students of color, persist through degree completion. To view the first blog post in the series, click here; second blog, click here; and third blog, click here.

BayCollege 2

Since the beginning of its involvement with the national Achieving the Dream initiative, Bay College President Dr. Laura Coleman has been unquestionably committed to an agenda of student success, and the process of continuous quality improvement. Likewise, the board of trustees has provided regular encouragement and support for the college’s many Achieving the Dream efforts. Bay College benefits from committed leadership, and its greatest accomplishment in this area has been the establishment and sustained impact of the Student Success and Completion Team.

The Student Success and Completion Team is a cross-functional group of Bay College leaders. Throughout the past four years, the team has been extraordinarily influential in growing a culture of continuous quality improvement at Bay College. Without this team’s hard work, passion to improve student success, and willingness to innovate, none of the improvements made at Bay College would be a reality.

Since its involvement with Achieving the Dream, Bay College has made numerous, large-scale institutional improvements. These include:

  • The introduction of supplemental instruction;
  • A first-year experience course to introduce students to principles and methods to be successful in college and in life based on the principles of the On Course textbook;
  • A revamped new-student orientation program that incorporates student participation and feedback through the use of iClickers, which are devices to allow individuals to provide instant feedback;
  • An improved advising model that pairs new students with their faculty advisor during orientation;
  • Increased professional development opportunities for faculty and staff; and
  • Improved transitional studies practices (e.g. mandatory placement and two, new full-time transitional studies faculty).

While these improvements are significant, perhaps the greatest systemic improvement at Bay College is the prioritized student success agenda. Student success has become the driving force behind nearly all of Bay College’s operations. In fact, it is the first entry in the college’s list of institutional priorities – student success, community success, and a culture of success.

Bay College has done an exemplary job of involving a wide variety of people in the college’s Achieving the Dream and continuous quality improvement efforts. At least 50 percent of all administration and faculty are regularly involved with Achieving the Dream in some way; and virtually everyone – employees and students alike – has been impacted by one of the college’s six interventions. This tremendous participation rate is Bay College’s greatest accomplishment in the Broad Engagement category of the Achieving the Dream initiative. The cooperation among faculty, administration, and staff has improved noticeably since Bay College became involved in Achieving the Dream, in addition to greater inclusion of external partners in improvement initiatives. For example, local K-12 teachers and administrators have attended several of Bay College’s professional development sessions. Local community leaders also were active participants in spring 2010, during the development of Bay College’s new purpose, vision, and mission statements.

As an Achieving the Dream leader college, these are just a few examples of the activities that Bay College is proud to engage in.

Guest Author: Cindy Carter, interim dean/executive director of admissions services, Bay College

Posted: May 21, 2015

Summer Melt: Preparedness and Prevention

Let’s talk about summer melt.

As the summer months approach, we begin to look back on the achievements of another long, yet rewarding school year. Among our more gratifying accomplishments was helping onward- and upward-aspiring youths successfully navigate the college-going process; the youths to whom we dedicate our efforts. We consider the following items that were crossed off our mental to-do list:

  • Weeks upon weeks of college applications? Done.
  • Cash Campaigning? FAFSA? Complete.
  • Admissions decisions? Admitted.
  • College Decision Day? Committed.
  • Measure the prevalence of summer melt among graduates of your high school(s);
  • Help students to identify pre-enrollment engagement opportunities at the institution they plan to attend, such as summer bridge and cultural experiences; and
  • Design a summer intervention customized to the needs and realities of your community, which may include targeted outreach efforts and accountability partners.

At this point, we may find ourselves grinning like the Cheshire cat of Alice in Wonderland, as we watch our beloved students prepare for their final days of high school, their big graduation day, and the next steps toward realizing their postsecondary dreams. The only thing standing between our students and those dreams are the sands of time…

But with promise in mind, what do we find from variables intertwined with these sands of time?
The answer to this rhyme is not always fine, as we seem to observe decline at the final finish line.
Melt is what we call it. Summer melt to be exact. It’s a nasty, casted character; you should see this as fact.

Summer melt is a phenomenon that affects students who, during the spring, demonstrate verifiable intent to enroll in college, but for various reasons, fail to enroll in the fall. These students have usually completed key college-going steps, such as achieving acceptance, applying for financial aid, and having signed their letter of acceptance.  Across the country, 10–40 percent of seemingly college-intending students do not enroll in college the fall after high school graduation.

There are many potential culprits for this phenomenon. Included among these are financial constraint, family obligation, immediate-term attractive job opportunity, and informational barriers. These barriers are particularly significant for low-income, minority, and first-generation college-going students, who typically lack the navigational capital of their college-intending peers.

Fortunately, counseling interventions that provide continued outreach and guidance for college-intending students have shown significant potential to alleviate summer melt.  Education researchers Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page are leaders in the field regarding this phenomenon. Through multiple studies on intervention, they have identified promising new approaches that include offering additional summer counseling hours, counselor-led text-message campaigns, and peer-to-peer mentoring. The intent is to help students solidify their college-going plans, rather than "melting."

So what can you do to help? There are a number of steps you can take in the immediate term, to support students who plan to enroll in college this fall:

  • Measure the prevalence of summer melt among graduates of your high school(s);
  • Help students to identify pre-enrollment engagement opportunities at the institution they plan to attend, such as summer bridge and cultural experiences; and
  • Design a summer intervention customized to the needs and realities of your community, which may include targeted outreach efforts and accountability partners.

What is MCAN doing? We’re currently exploring opportunities to implement comprehensive summer-melt intervention strategies in Michigan high schools. This effort would begin with the upcoming class of postsecondary education aspirants. These strategies include the procurement of a contract that would make a text-messaging platform available to high school counselors. This platform would enable counselors to connect with students through pre-scheduled, automated communications. The messages would remind students of important deadlines, and permit customized messages depending on schools' preferences. As with all MCAN statewide initiatives, these efforts are only successful through the collaborative efforts of state and local stakeholders.

We look forward to the continued development of programming that helps increase educational attainment for Michigan citizens. Look out for summer melt updates in the coming months!


IsaiahBaileyAuthor: Isaiah Bailey, education fellow, Michigan College Access Network

Posted: May 19, 2015

Fostering Care and Education

LCAN Spotlight: College and Career Action Network

May is National Foster Care month, “a month set aside to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections,” according to Childwelfare.gov. Nearly 400,000 children and youth are in foster care, yet a mere 2-4 percent will obtain a bachelor’s degree (Casey Family programs, 2010). This sobering statistic is one reason that MCAN is especially pleased to highlight the efforts of the College and Career Action Network, which strives to connect with foster youth in Kalamazoo County, and has made great strides in supporting their paths to achieving a postsecondary education.CACANlogo

Brenda Pickett, a convener for CACAN, always had a “soft spot” for foster kids. As a retired elementary principal, she knew foster students’ special needs were not being met by many school districts. Approximately five years ago, Pickett learned that the office for a statewide initiative, Fostering Success Michigan, would be housed at nearby Western Michigan University. She immediately made a connection with FSM’s Director of Outreach and Training Maddy Day, and included her as a voice in CACAN’s efforts. This collaboration led to greater training of school counselors, and increased resources to assist foster care youth.

Because CACAN is part of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Services Agency, it has access to school counselors from throughout Kalamazoo County. CACAN regularly meets with the counselors, and hosts county-wide professional development for all staff members who work with youth. Some of the training sessions focus on topics such as how to work with foster youth; youth trauma; and general obstacles experienced by students in foster care. Day frequently serves as a presenter at the professional development sessions. “The counselor to student ratio is difficult,” says Pickett. “We found that by better educating counselors [on how to support students who have experienced foster care], they become equipped with the knowledge to support these students.”

When asked about whether CACAN’s outreach has increased college access for foster care students, Pickett says that Tuition Incentive Program dollars have doubled and tripled at local Kalamazoo Valley Community College. The college boasts a Student Success Center, which was formed to provide extra assistance to students who may struggle with postsecondary education. This is especially helpful to foster care youth. Additionally, the Seita Scholars Program at Western Michigan University provides specific support to foster youth who are students, in the form of intense academic support, financial resources, education and training vouchers, and support for social and emotional success. It’s apparent that institutions of higher education in Kalamazoo County have identified a need to support foster care students who are in matriculation.

CACAN, the Student Success Center, and Seita Scholars Program provide examples of the comprehensive efforts needed to support at-risk foster youth on their path to attaining postsecondary education. And that’s fortunate, because “social and emotional well being are the biggest barriers to foster youth obtaining a college education,” says Pickett.

Local College Access Networks wishing to increase their support of foster care students should start by sharing training opportunities and resources with school counselors and social workers. Fostering Success Michigan regularly offers webinars and resources for free. Additionally, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has education planners, who serve 38 counties and provide one-on-one assistance to youth in foster care. The planners are available to conduct presentations and training on policy requirements and the specific educational needs of older youth in foster care.

LCANs also should expand their networks by including all stakeholders with a vested interest in foster care youth, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, Communities and Schools, Promise Zone representatives, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, community foundations, local university and college representatives, and other professionals associated with foster care.

“Listen to people. Brainstorm together,” says Pickett. Clearly, her strategies work. CACAN has a captive audience of vested community members who continually strive to support and improve the educational outcomes for foster care youth in Kalamazoo County.


Lisa King headshot 2013Posted: May 13, 2015

Author: Lisa King, MCAN consultant

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