Michigan's College Access Blog

Achieving the Dream, Part 2

Increasing Student Attendance Rates from Start to Finish

The Start to Finish Program was started in fall 2012 on the campus of Lake Michigan College. The program was created to increase overall success and graduation rates among Promise Zone students.  After researching data and surveying faculty, attendance was identified as a key indicator of success. The initial Promise Zone cohort from 2011 had an attendance rate of 63 percent, compared to an average overall rate of over 80 percent for the college. We decided to implement an aggressive attendance strategy for this cohort. Our program is layered with various services, but attendance monitoring has definitely been one of the most effective.

Life coach-TiaraWeb

Life coach-RoyWeb

Courtney-life coach picWeb

  Life coaches and students
Lake Michigan College Start to Finish Program

Our life coaches work hard to establish a solid rapport with each student as soon as they show up on campus. This makes it a lot easier to have conversations in regards to attendance. The I.T. department provides our office with a daily report of the previous day’s attendance. The office assistant reviews the attendance every day and contacts each student who has missed at least one class, to inquire about the reason and offer assistance if needed. After two absences, the life coach intervenes. We initially thought contacting a student after each absence was excessive, so decided to contact them after two classes were missed. This was often times too late for several reasons:

  • Quite a few students had a hard time digging themselves out of the hole created by just two absences;
  • For each day they are not in class, students could be missing out on valuable participation points;
  • Some instructors even decrease letter grades after a set number of absences; and
  • It can take a couple days to communicate with students because contact information changed quite often. 

Because the repercussions of two absences can multiply quickly, contact after every absence gave us a better chance of addressing the issue before it was too late. The most common reasons for absences are usually transportation, work conflicts and personal issues. Classroom fear also is significant, as several students missed class because they didn’t complete assignments or understand what was being discussed during class.  In each situation, life coaches work closely with the students to guide them through the problem solving process, provide resources, reiterate the importance of attendance, and provide encouragement.

As a result, we were able to increase our attendance consistently each year, which resulted in significant gains in grade-point averages, completion rates and retention. This past fall semester, our students completed the semester with an 84 percent attendance rate; less than one point below the college average. Perhaps the most surprising result of our aggressive attendance monitoring is the reaction we received from students. Most students said they appreciated the contact because it was nice to know someone was concerned. Other students exclaimed, “I make sure I go to every class so you all won’t call me every day.”  Either way, it works!

Guest Author: Louis Thomas, Lake Michigan College

Posted: April 8, 2015

Achieving the Dream

Program Spotlight

We all know that community college is a great postsecondary option for many students. In fact, nearly one half of all students AchievingDreamseeking higher education choose to attend a community college. Unfortunately, only 52 percent of Michigan students successfully complete a degree, earn a certificate, or transfer to another institution within six years.

Achieving the Dream is a national initiative leading the most comprehensive, evidence-based reform movement in history, for community college student success in higher education. Through the Achieving the Dream College Completion Innovation Fund, the Michigan College Access Network, in partnership with The Kresge Foundation, has supported several Michigan colleges in their quest to improve student outcomes. These grants have assisted colleges in creating, expanding and sustaining research-based interventions that help more students, particularly low-income students and students of color, persist through degree completion. 

This year, MCAN awarded funding to Bay College, Jackson College and Lake Michigan College. Each of these colleges has developed unique and innovative programs to promote student success and improve student outcomes.  Over the next few weeks, we will showcase these institutions and how each is working to make a college degree a reality for students in Michigan. Watch our blog to learn more!

Sarah Anthony headshot 2013Author: Sarah Anthony, director of finance and strategic partnerships, Michigan College Access Network

Posted: April 1, 2015

Reasons You Can't Afford to Miss the 2015 MCAN Conference: A Top 10 List

The 5th annual Michigan College Access Network Conference is right around the corner! MCAN’s conference provides high energy presenters, engaging breakout sessions, top-notch networking opportunities, innovative strategy sharing, and more. If you haven’t already heard, new to the conference this year is a pre-conference and an awards dinner. The pre-conference sessions will allow for a deeper dive into a few high demand content areas, and the awards dinner will recognize five outstanding college access advocates from across the state for their dedication to the field along with a celebration of our achievements as a state throughout the past five years. You will surely be bummed if you miss the conference this year!

It can often be tough to decide whether it is worth the time to leave your office and attend a conference. We all seem to have more to do and less time to do it in, and attending a conference may feel like it is putting you behind at the office. I would argue that attending a conference on a topic of interest can often provide the necessary fuels to re-energize your workplace and bring new ideas and innovative practices to your work. As we search for more sunshine and warmer weather here in Michigan, we could all use extra motivation the MCAN conference is sure to provide!

Take advice from the pros and check out the list below of things to consider and keep in mind as you decide whether or not to attend the 2015 MCAN Conference. Check out more about the MCAN Conference, the events, the speakers, and the topics and consider joining us on April 12 and 13.

MCAN's Top 10 Reasons Why You Can’t Afford to Miss the 2015 Conference

10. Get out of the office! - Who doesn’t want to get out of the office from time to time? Living only in a digital cave has its perks, but getting out of the office can be good for you, your co-workers, loved ones, and yes, for your work.

9. Minimized Distractions - Whether attending a session and learning or talking with other attendees or presenters, it’s very difficult to multi-task. In contrast, webinar attendees can email, skype, instant message, and take phone calls which fragments thinking and hinders meaningful productivity.

8. Face to Face Always Trumps Digital Encounters - Good, better, best. It is good to connect over email, it is better to connect on the phone, but the best way to connect is face to face, and always will be. People are not avatars.

7. Meet Industry Leaders - If you aren’t a leader in your office, one way to become one is to meet those around you who are. At events, leaders are often encouraged to be available to attendees to chat and answer questions. Pull out your camera and take a photo with them, ask them some questions, learn a few things.

6. Learn Current Strategies That Are Working - At events, people tend to loosen up and will often share some of their best practices, like innovative strategies that are working, or have bombed. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn what is tried and true.

5. Being Around Like-Minded People is Inspirational - This is self explanatory, and especially true in the education space, we are unique group of people. We all need inspiration from time to time.

4. Make Connections for Others – It’s easy to meet someone at a conference who has a unique interest that’s similar to someone with whom you are already connected. It’s often hard to make those connections meaningful digitally, but in person these connections can be game changers. Making connections is not only helpful for the connected, but is also fun for the facilitator.

3. Build Your Rolodex - It’s important to build a rolodex, an active rolodex with a purpose. This can be the most valuable asset in any work setting. The networking opportunities from a conference can sometimes be the most beneficial part of the gathering.

2. Opportunity for Partnerships - This is huge. Meeting like-minded people not only inspires (point 5), but it creates an opportunity to build partnerships and opportunities for collaboration.

1. The Best Ideas Come When You Least Expect It - The human mind is an amazing organ. It is always working, even though we may not be “working.” Some of the best strategic ideas can come when you are in the shower, mowing the lawn, or running errands. Events provide a sort of down time that can till the soil of brilliance.


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

Posted: March 26, 2015

Characteristics of an LCAN Coordinator

LCAN Spotlight

LCAN coordinators hold a unique position in our communities - they coordinate the community-wide college access strategy developed with the leadership team. Coordinators should have a clear vision of where the LCAN needs to focus and the ability to drive that focus forward. Rather than providing direct services to students and families, they work as trainers, conveners and liaisons.

As MCAN coaches and guides LCANs through the planning process, we often turn to a list of ideal skill-sets that make an effective network coordinator:

  • Visionary/mission-driven
  • Results-oriented
  • Collaborative, relationship builder
  • Focused, but adaptive
  • Charismatic and influential communicator
  • Politically savvy
  • Humble

We encourage our LCAN coordinators to empower the direct-service providers in their network and hold them accountable for shared outcomes. A coordinator can’t shy away from constantly pushing the community to action. But, that is easier said than done. We decided to approach the following four LCAN coordinators from around the state to ask them how they bring the list of skill sets to life:


Mary Ann Behm
Program Coordinator
Launch Manistee 


Meghan Howell
Wexford-Missaukee College Access Network 


Ashley Kryscynski
Washtenaw Futures 


Ashley Johnson
Executive Director
Detroit College Access Network 

How do you ensure your work stays at the network level rather than direct service?

Meghan: It’s important to establish yourself as a resource at the onset of any initiative and clearly define the expectations for the group you are working with. I provide a clear path to complete the activity and all the resources needed to do so upfront. This leaves room for newcomers to participate in an entry level way and veterans to elaborate independently.

Ashley K: I stay conscious of how I can best support and leverage resources for our direct service workers to make their jobs easier. As much as I’d love to be the one directly helping with college applications and FAFSA completion, I know that I have a greater impact in supporting those who are already doing this work.

What are you able to do by coordinating the community-wide college access strategy that you wouldn’t be able to do if you provided direct service?

Mary Ann: I’m able to work with community resources and the media to facilitate and promote our initiative. For example, during College Application Week, I provided the structure, information, and resources to the counseling staff for them to organize events.

Ashley J: We’re able to work at a systems level to ensure that our campaigns reach more students and have a greater impact on students city-wide…We also have an opportunity to improve the systems that students navigate every day, which will have positive long-term effects on the outcomes of students.

Ashley K: Leveraging multiple community resources to help fill in resource or knowledge gaps! The biggest success we had this year in Washtenaw County was creating the College Coaching Corps program with Eastern Michigan University and MCAN. Developing and implementing this program just isn't possible as a direct service worker. Our Leadership Team identified a need in our community and was able to identify multiple funding sources and create brand new positions to fill the need for specialized college advisors.

What has the community been able to accomplish with someone facilitating the collective impact process that wasn’t occurring prior to the LCAN’s existence?

Meghan: The LCAN has really moved the magnifying glass onto college access and who in our community is doing what.  Before our LCAN the community had a lot of really great things happening, but the communication to bridge those activities was lacking.  No single organization wanted to step into that coordinator role or be seen as telling other organizations what to do.  Consequently each organization went about its business respectful of the others doing the same.  Our LCAN gave a common denominator to all those efforts, and an independent voice to assess what was happening, and to make suggestions for coordination/improvement/change.  As a coordinator you can meet with all the organizations independently and bring concerns to light in the name of improving college access, not in the name of pushing agendas.  The LCAN provides that independent voice that is trying to improve college access. Not many can disagree with that, and the politics melt away.   

Ashley J: We’ve been able to create a formal structure that includes all the city’s school partners. Due to this formal structure, we have more buy-in citywide from schools and other partners. Our leadership team meetings have become more productive, and we have selected priority areas to focus on for the next one- to two-years.

What is the Leadership Team most excited about regarding having a staff member waking up every day thinking about college access?

Mary Ann: The Launch Manistee leadership team is most excited that we’ve seen accomplishments so quickly. There is collaboration going on that was not occurring before, and having a program coordinator means there is a dedicated staff member who makes sure the initiatives happen in a systematic and sustainable manner.

Ashley K: What excites them most is knowing this work cannot be done within their own respective sector alone, and that by having a dedicated coordinator, there is someone who acts as the point of contact to bring all their knowledge and resources together.  College has always been valued in our community and each sector knows how college attainment directly impacts their sector, which is why everyone does something in regards to college access. However, the team is excited to know that there’s now a dedicated staff person to bring all of these to the table to put the pieces of the puzzle together.


Sarah Anthony headshot 2013Author: Sarah Anthony, director of finance and strategic partnerships, Michigan College Access Network

Posted: March 18, 2015

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