Michigan's College Access Blog

Birthday Celebrations and Reflection

Brandy and Kirby

August is a very special month to me. I was born in August. Five years ago, MCAN officially launched as its own non-profit organization. Last year, I married the love of my life. And this August? I welcomed our first born – Kirby Daniel Repko.

During the pregnancy, I was often asked, "Is this your first?" I would joke that Kirby was my first human child, but that MCAN would always be my first baby. Now, nothing can compare to Kirby, but starting a nonprofit and watching it grow is more common to pregnancy and labor than one might think!

That immediate feeling of joy, excitement and panic when you receive confirmation your nonprofit status is approved or you're officially pregnant? Check

Growing pains? Check

Late night projects to submit a grant in time or finish building a crib? Check

Surrounding yourself with a strong support network? Check

Celebrating all victories - big and small? Check

Starting a nonprofit is no easy task. I remember the early days sitting alone in the MCAN office on Chestnut Street. Now, I'm surrounded by seven incredibly talented and dedicated colleagues. Each team member has pushed us farther and helped improve Michigan's college access strategy. In the past five years we've:

  • Awarded more than $4 million dollars to local communities to implement innovative college access strategies.
  • Launched a statewide initiatives strategy to include College Application Week, College Cash Campaign and College Decision Day.
  • Improved training and support for high school counselors through grants and a postsecondary planning training course.
  • Embraced collective impact framework, resulting in the production of Charting the Course: A community's guide for increasing educational attainment through the lens of collective impact.
  • Hosted numerous professional development opportunities through the annual conference, webinars and LCAN convenings.
  • Supported the growth of college advisers in Michigan through AdviseMI, Michigan State University College Advising Corps and the University of Michigan College Advising Corps.
  • Watched Michigan's college attainment rate increase from 36.4% to 38.4%

MCAN 5th birthday

And this is only a few of our accomplishments! I'm extremely proud of our hard working staff and board. MCAN would not be where it is today without them. I can't wait to see what the next five years will bring.

Happy birthday MCAN!


I won't leave you without the traditional baby facts and adorable pictures. Kirby was born on Saturday, August 1, 2015 at 6:34 a.m. He was 6 lbs, 10 oz and 19 inches long. The MCAN staff is already busy spoiling Kirby and stopping by for visits. Kirby even has his first acceptance letter to college courtesy of our good friend Christopher Tremblay at Western Michigan University.

Thank you to everyone for your well wishes!

Kirby collage


Author: Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network
Posted: August 19, 2015

MCAN Launches AdviseMI, New College Adviser Program for Michigan High Schools

As part of the Michigan College Access Network’s commitment to #ReachHigher and achieve Goal 2025,MCAN launched a new college advising program called AdviseMI. The program seeks to help more Michigan students pursue postsecondary education by placing recent college graduates as advisers in communities across Michigan, particularly those with low college-going rates and low adult educational attainment rates.

Training kicks off this week for the 40 newly-hired advisers who are recent graduates from 12 partnering colleges. Collectively, they will serve 50 high schools in every corner of the state and 35,000 students, 8,000 of whom are seniors. Working alongside high school counselors and other school staff, these advisers will support students as they make the transition from high school to a postsecondary education institution.

How did MCAN get to this point today?

It started as an MCAN board of directors’ discussion in September 2014. Michigan was seeing great success from the highly-effective College Advising Corps through Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, and MCAN was regularly contacted by high schools asking how more advisers could be made available across the state. MCAN’s board wanted to explore other options to meet the high need and high demands, so they encouraged MCAN staff to explore the possibility of launching a strategy to increase the number of dedicated college advisers in Michigan.

My staff and I dove right into the challenge and identified over 350 high schools in Michigan that had either above a 42 percent Free-and-Reduced lunch rate (state average) or served at least 400 students who were on Free-and-Reduced lunch. We wanted to make sure there were lots of schools with need – and doing this analysis confirmed our hunch.

We quickly arranged a meeting with representatives from the Governor’s Office and State Budget Office to gauge interest of public funding to support a major college advising initiative. From the beginning, we conceptualized this program as a public-private partnership. We suggested that the State put forward 1/3 of the necessary funds and challenge MCAN to raise the remaining 2/3 from non-state sources.

The next few months were spent designing the program and setting goals. While attending the White House College Opportunity Day of Commitment in early December 2014, MCAN committed to hiring an additional 40 college advisers to serve an additional 50 high schools. This goal allowed us to double the impact of efforts already made by the Michigan State University College Advising Corps and the University of Michigan College Advising Corps.

Next, we secured funding through an AmeriCorps grant opportunity and approached college and university presidents across the state to explore the possibility of a partnership. This partnership asked the colleges to provide small financial support while MCAN committed to hiring recent college graduates from the partner colleges to serve as advisers. Ultimately, MCAN established partnerships with 12 colleges and universities.

By February 2015, it was becoming more real as we opened the RFP process for high schools to apply to host an adviser. We received more applications than we could support, making the process competitive. The selected high schools were announced in April during our annual conference.

MCAN staff quickly turned into recruitment mode for recent college graduates from our partner colleges and universities. From May to June 2015, with the support of our high school and college partners, MCAN hired 40 advisers as well as two co-directors that will lead the new program. Training for the newly-hired advisers kicks off this week, and then the advisers will report to their buildings and begin serving in late August 2015.

Remember our challenge by the State? MCAN met the challenge and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder recommended an additional $1 million in his most recent budget for programs intended to increase the number of college advisers in schools.

My staff and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see our hard work coming to life. We were aggressive and kept our eye on the ultimate goal of helping more students as they make the transition from high school to a postsecondary education institution.

Follow the AdviseMI college advisers during training on Instagram: @AdviseMI or #AdviseMI.

For more information, visit micollegeaccess.org/statewide-initiatives/advisemi.

Brandy Johnson headshot 2013Author: Brandy Johnson, Michigan College Access Network executive director

Posted: July 8, 2015

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

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