Legislators, Foundation Leaders Celebrate College Access Success Across Michigan

Friday, May 23, 2014

An event held to celebrate the past and ongoing success of providing college access to students across Michigan brought together more than 160 people including state legislators, foundation leaders and community partners dedicated to ensuring those educational opportunities continue.

The Kresge Foundation – one of the leading voices and supporters of college access – recently hosted “Celebrating College Access in Michigan” in Lansing. The event kicked off with William F. L. Moses, managing director, education of The Kresge Foundation, noting that the foundation believes that increasing the number of college graduates in the U.S. can fuel a new, education-led era of prosperity.

“This effort is built around helping low-income and undeserved people change the trajectory of their lives by giving them the tools, financial resources and direction to succeed in their post-secondary educational goals,” said Moses.

To achieve its mission, The Kresge Foundation’s Education Program focuses on expanding student access to higher education and opening avenues to academic success, particularly for those historically left out of the picture: low-income, first-generation, African American, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native American students.

Michigan College Access Network

One of Michigan’s great educational success stories centers on the work of the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), created in 2010 with the support of The Kresge Foundation, to increase college readiness, participation and completion, particularly among low-income students, first-generation college going students and students of color. 

MCAN supports the creation, expansion and sustainability of high-quality, community-based college access strategic alliances by serving as the primary support and intermediary organization to local college access networks (LCANs) through technical assistance and grants.

“We know that college is a necessity, not a luxury and that post-secondary education is a prerequisite to success in this college-based economy,” said Brandy Johnson, MCAN executive director.

“Post-secondary opportunities and attainment are critical to a just and equitable society, strong economy and healthy community. Our network also shares a common goal: to increase a percentage of Michigan’s working-aged adults with college degrees or post-secondary credentials to 60% by 2025,” she added

The MCAN goal was chosen because it aligns with projected labor market demands.

“According to labor economists, within the next 10 years, 62% of all jobs in Michigan will require post-secondary education,” noted Johnson. “We’re making progress but we have a long way to go. Currently, only 37.4% of Michigan adults have an associate degree or higher.”

Applauding the efforts of The Kresge Foundation and community foundations around the state was Eileen Curtis, president/CEO of the Bay Area Community Foundation, a CMF trustee and MCAN director.

“It was the vision and leadership of The Kresge Foundation that catalyzed this work into a statewide initiative with their support for the creation of MCAN and the Kresge Community Foundation College Access Challenge Grant Program,” said Curtis

Created in 2011 with a grant from The Kresge Foundation and administered by the Council of Michigan Foundations, the Community Foundation College Access Challenge Grant initiative has been geared to leverage local private investment to engage and sustain college access partnerships, to support a learning community with toolkits, networking opportunities, youth grantmaking incentives and second-tier funding to strengthen the sustainability of the local partnerships.  

“These two programs became the connectors, creating infrastructure, common goals and financial support to communities across the state uniting the college access work, but with the flexibility to address issues on a local level,” said Curtis.

Successes across Michigan

Theresa Bray, executive director of the Allegan County Community Foundation, shared her perspective on “Awareness & Preparedness: Cradle to Career.”

“Our work in Allegan County started with an education summit. Everyone was invited: parents, business owners, students and community members. Each perception had validity. Each idea was valuable.

“At the end of the summit we had an engaged community which understood that college preparation does not begin with the onset of the junior or senior year. It must be woven into the daily fabric of our culture. Preparation is not just about grades or money. It is about discovery of self, goal-setting, understanding the messages and acting upon them.”

Monica Moser, president/CEO of the Jackson Community Foundation, shared her organization’s success with building – and expanding – the Jackson College Access Center.

“In Jackson we have spent many years developing a system of support. Of course scholarships help with some of the financial resources needed, but our college access center (located in a mall) helps the students and their parents navigate the tricky parts of how to apply,” said Moser.

“This year, with the brain power of the Jackson County Cradle to Career Network, we expanded the college access center to the ‘college and career access center,’ and are able to reach all 1,600 graduating seniors in the 13 high schools across the county,” she added. “Since January, we’ve had over 500 new visitors to the expanded center.”

Dan Varner, CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit, addressed attendees by saying his organization defines success by being on track to graduate 90% of his students on time from high school; 90% of those graduates enrolled in a post-secondary program; and 90% of those enrollees ready to succeed without the need for remediation.

“We help schools get better by creating programs designed to improve readiness at five different levels: born ready, school ready, high school ready, college ready and career ready,” said Varner.

Part of Excellent Schools Detroit’s work last year focused on a FAFSA (required forms for college financial aid) completion initiative. “The level of FAFSA completion before that work was 53%. We set a goal of 70%. We got 73%! And it unlocked over $16 million in financial aid for Detroit school students.

“For those of you who do the work, keep doing it. For those of you who support the work, keep supporting it. It is changing lives and changing communities,” said Varner.

Two high school students – Cassidy Gould and Rachel Hileman – both Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) members at the Community Foundation for Delta County, shared the story of their group’s creation of an after-school tutoring program for elementary students, improving students’ self-image and academic success at an early level.

Closing the event was Caroline Altman Smith, senior program officer, education at The Kresge Foundation.

“There has been a tremendous amount of work put in administering the Kresge/CMF Education Challenge Grant Program over the past two years…and I want to thank all the community foundations for the leadership they have shown raising money for college access, convenings they have held and serving in a leadership capacity at the local level,” said Smith.

“There has truly been an extraordinary show of support by community foundations around the state on this issue of college access and their efforts to encourage that work. Thank you for all you do!”


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