Michigan's College Access Blog

Increase K-8 College Aspiration: Participate in MI College Application Week

 Show me the money
 This bulletin board is one of many college-themed items on display during Harbor Lights Middle School College Application Week.

High schools from throughout the state of Michigan will be celebrating College Application Week Oct. 26-30. It is a week developed by the Michigan College Access Network and modeled from a national effort, that encourages  all seniors to complete and submit at least one college application. Many Michigan colleges reduce or waive application fees for this week to make it even easier for students to apply. At Harbor Lights Middle School, we have seized the opportunity to design experiential and developmentally appropriate activities that tie in to this week and capitalize on the attention generated by West Ottawa High School’s participation as a host site.

In the daily announcements, students learn the definition of a different college-related vocabulary word. On Friday, students in homerooms compete in a quiz game using a shared Google spread sheet to test their learning of these words. The words might be scrambled, or clues may be given so classes guess at the answers, then type them into the sheet—all in a live format that each class is following on their projector and screen.  Homerooms also create college-themed doors for a door-decorating contest.  Some have chosen to highlight the students’ goals, a specific college, or college rivalry. The ideas for doors are endless. College-themed swag prizes are awarded to several participating classes at the end of the games and contest.

 Every Harbor Lights Middle School staff member has been asked to display a sign outside their door or office that advertises where they went to college. During College Application Week, we ask teachers to specifically talk about their signs, college experiences, ways that they paid for college, as well as answer questions that the students may have.

Another fun day during College Application Week is a college-apparel day.  Students and staff are asked to wear their college gear. This is a great conversation starter for teachers to again talk about college access, their college experience, and answer any students’ questions.

In March each year, we host College Week, which involves a few more age-appropriate activities. This week includes a day in which all three of our grades participate in college- and career-focused activities that we call College, Career and Life Ready Day. During our school’s most recent event, homerooms were assigned a college that was playing in the NCAA basketball tournament and asked to create a door around that theme. A bracket was created and hung in our main hallway and updated as the games progressed. We titled our bracket display, “College Knowledge Championship.”

Another activity that gets Harbor Lights students involved is a college-related Bingo game that is played like a scavenger hunt. Students are asked to find one person for each of the descriptors in the square.  Examples include, find someone who went to college out of state, find someone who received a scholarship to help pay for college, etc.  Students turn completed Bingo cards in to the office and a random drawing is held with college swag as the prizes for the winners.

There are so many options for promoting college aspiration among students in grades K-8. In addition to the ideas above, schools might consider a college-apparel rivalry day.  Students and staff could wear attire that represents their favorite college rival, and homeroom teachers could tally up the “votes.”  At the end of the day, the counselor or principal could announce the winner by playing the fight song over the P.A. system. If you have a daily or weekly video announcements show for students, work with that teacher or class to develop segments about your college activities; interview your school’s college adviser if you have one; or consider speaking about your own college experiences.

With middle school and elementary school students, exposure to basic college-access information and terminology, coupled with engaging and fun experiences, can begin building their college aspirations and growing their college knowledge. Together we can Reach Higher!

Join Ann and MCAN for a Twitter Chat about K-8 College Aspiration!

Would you like to learn more about building college awareness and aspiration among students in grades K-8? Do you have experiences to share, or questions about the topic? Join MCAN Director of Statewide Initiatives and Special Projects Christi Taylor, and Harbor Lights Middle School Counselor Ann Harris for a Twitter chat about K-8 participation in College Application Week.

The discussion will take place Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015 at 1:00 p.m. EDT. Plug in using the #K8CAW hashtag.

To send us your questions in advance, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Ann HarrisGuest Author: Ann Harris, MA, LPC, NCC, and proud member of the first cohort in MCAN’s School Counselor Postsecondary Planning and Training Course, 2013-14

Posted: Oct. 13, 2015

Reaching Higher with 100 High Schools

Late last week, MCAN named 100 high schools that each will receive $5,000 grants to help leverage and systematize college programming in their buildings. Given its strong commitment to, and support of, the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, it’s no surprise that MCAN is calling the participants Reach Higher high schools.

Bay City Central High School students celebrate Decision Day 2014 with a visit from Sparty, the Michigan State University mascot. Their high school was one of 100 selected to receive a Reach Higher grant.

Through its statewide initiatives strategy, MCAN shows continuous commitment to providing support, assistance, and promotional material that helps schools develop campaigns around important milestones in the college-going process. College Application Week was launched in 2011, followed by College Decision Day in 2014, and the College Cash Campaign in 2015. Despite the suite of initiatives offered, these campaigns often occur in isolation - as one-off programs with sporadic implementation. MCAN will continue to provide resources and support to all schools that participate in the statewide initiatives – we love working with them! However, the Reach Higher grants will scale and formalize the initiatives, and help Michigan move the needle to reach Goal 2025.

Reach Higher high schools will be responsible for implementing the entire suite of MCAN’s statewide initiatives and developing a cohesive strategy to foster college-going culture and improve college-going outcomes at the building level. That strategy will include the following:

  • Establish Postsecondary Advisory Council: Schools will establish a dedicated team of professionals to lead the college access strategy. The team will include the principal, counselor(s), college adviser(s), teachers, as well as (if appropriate) higher education representatives (admissions, financial aid, outreach), and community-based organizations. The team will adopt a college-going vision for their high school and determine baseline levels on specific indicators.
  • Triad of College Access Events: Each PAC will plan and host a linked triad of college access events for seniors including College Application Week in the fall, College Cash Campaign in the winter (which will include systemic financial aid screening for name-by-name FAFSA completion), and College Decision Day in the spring.
  • Postsecondary Success Asset Mapping: Each PAC will participate in Postsecondary Success Asset Mapping to evaluate the school’s college-going culture. PSAM is a research-based survey and set of tools that help schools better guide students toward successful college and career pathways.
  • Reach Higher High School Self-Assessment: Each PAC will assess the current effectiveness of its college and career readiness counseling, support, and programming in two ways:

(1) Staffing and Capacity – What is the school is doing to ensure appropriate school counselor capacity, focus, and professional development opportunities; and

(2) College-Going Culture and Programs – What is the school's building-level strategy for improving college enrollment outcomes?

MCAN believes the Reach Higher strategy will ignite systems-level change in school buildings, which is key to moving the needle. We’re so excited to have 100 high schools on board as we launch this new program, and can’t wait to see the amazing progress that happens in schools across the state!  Schools are excited too – more than 140 grant applications made the process selective and competitive. You can view the complete list of Reach Higher grantees for a record of all selected high schools. 

Christ Taylor headshot 2013Author: Christi Taylor, MCAN director of statewide initiatives and special projects

Posted: Sept. 30, 2015


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

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