Increasing College Access Will Build a Stronger Michigan

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mike Gallagher
CMF Editorial Correspondent

Most everyone agrees that among the many strategies in place to boost Michigan’s economic vitality in the years to come, increasing college readiness, participation, and completion rates for young people and adults ranks near or at the top.

So when the executive director of the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) recently appeared before a joint meeting of the state House Subcommittee on ASC Higher Education and the Senate Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Higher Education, the legislators were anxious to listen.

And they liked what they heard.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker
(R-20th District)

“I believe that MCAN is making a difference…and if the state is able to put more money on the table during this upcoming appropriation’s cycle, I believe we need to support the effort to increase the opportunities for post-secondary education for everyone,” said Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-20th District), who chaired the hearing.

MCAN Executive Director Brandy Johnson was joined by former State Senator and Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan DeGrow, who now serves as superintendent of the St. Clair County RESA and is a member of MCAN’s board, and William F.S. Moses, the Kresge Foundation’s program officer for education.

Johnson explained MCAN’s role to the legislators, saying, “Our primary strategy is to support the creation, expansion and sustainability of high-quality, community based college access strategic alliances.

“MCAN serves as the primary intermediary support organization to Local College Access Networks (LCANs) by providing technical assistance and grant opportunities.”

A secondary strategy of MCAN, noted Johnson, is to sponsor key, statewide initiatives in order to increase college access, particularly within LCANs. To achieve this, she noted, MCAN serves as the lead implementation partner for such projects as:

Brandy Johnson (foreground) getting ready
to testify.

But it was MCAN metrics and the increase during the past four years of various measurable categories – such as college enrollment, academic and financial readiness and degree attainment - since its inception that really resonated with the joint committee panel, said various legislators, including Rep. Al Pscholka (R-District 29), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

“The numbers tell the story…and I’m seeing a significant improvement in many college-related categories throughout the state from the baseline time period of 2009-2010 until current,” said Pscholka.

For example, according to several state and federal academic-related sourcing organizations – including the EXPLORE State Profile Summary Report, SchoolData, U.S. Department of Education and Federal Student Aid Data Center:

  • Academic readiness as shown in average ACT composite scores of 11th grade students increased from 19.0% to 19.7%
  • High school graduates who enroll in a higher education institution within one year jumped from 54.9% to 60.3%
  • And the community college completion/graduation/transfer rate improved from 48% to 52%.

“These are small, but important increases that need to be sustained and built upon,” said Pscholka. “It is our job (state legislators) to make sure adequate funding is made available to continue to support the efforts that are helping Michigan students and adults reach their academic goals.”

Johnson noted MCAN’s goals are aligned with those of Michigan legislators and Governor Rick Snyder.      

“MCAN’s overarching goal is to increase the proportion of Michigan residents with post-secondary degrees and high-quality credentials to 60% by the year 2025,” she told the committee.         

“Since 2010, MCAN has provided 42 communities with more than $1.4 million to implement robust college access strategies,” said Johnson. “This grant funding is designed to help Michigan’s LCANs establish cross-sector collaborative action plans to dramatically increase their college-going rates.     

“Our LCANs coordinate programs, services and resources that lower the barriers preventing students from pursuing post-secondary educational opportunities. In each community, leaders in K-12, higher education, nonprofits, governments, business and philanthropy work together to design a local strategy to foster a college-going culture.”

Both DeGrow and Moses highlighted the commitment and financial support being provided by foundations throughout the state to fund efforts such as MCAN and LCANs to help open the doors of educational opportunity for low-income and students and students of color.    

The Kresge Foundation, for example, has been a leader in its long-standing support of college access programs. In August 2011, Kresge funded the Community Foundation Challenge Grant initiative geared to leverage local private investment to engage and sustain college access partnerships.

Kresge’s initial $500,000 investment for that initiative helped support the local college access efforts of 13 Michigan community foundations and leveraged $890,060 in local funding. It also encouraged the establishment of $483,566 in permanently endowed funds for local college access activities.    

In October 2011, Kresge announced another $1.2 million investment to enhance the initiative statewide with the money helping to provide college access toolkits, networking opportunities, youth grantmaking incentives and second-tier funding to strengthen the sustainability of the local partnerships.      

Addressing the legislators, DeGrow said, “This partnership between the foundation community and the state to help achieve these (college access) goals is extraordinary. Great things can happen when there are such tremendous collaborations.”

Moses added, “MCAN is a national leader in promoting secondary education…and (Kresge) has been very pleased with how its money was used.”    

Senator Schuitmaker said the next few weeks will determine how much funding the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will include in the upcoming state budget to support college access initiatives such as MCAN. “We are cautiously optimistic we’ll have more money to work with this year, but we have to see how (legislative) negotiations go.”  

For more information about MCAN, visit:


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