By JOSH THALL
Capital News Service
LANSING — An organization that aims to close the college education gap between rich and poor is introducing a program that puts recent college graduates in Michigan high schools to guide students through the admissions process.
Michigan College Access Network plans to hire 40 recent graduates from 13 Michigan colleges to work full time in high schools with high proportions of low-income students and low college enrollment rates.
High schools in Manistee, Alpena and Alcona are among those that will participate, said Brandy Johnson, founder and executive director of the access network.
Joyce McCoy, director of instruction at Alpena Public Schools, said a college adviser would be able to help students find a good college fit by organizing activities such as job shadows while in high school, so they can see what they enjoy.
“We haven’t been able to do much in job shadowing because we are a deficit district,” McCoy said. “This would just be a real salvation for us to have as part of our career-going activities — this is excellent for us.”
Johnson said the new advisers will work primarily with juniors and seniors to help them through the process of researching colleges, applying for admission and seeking financial aid.
More than 40 branches of the Michigan College Access Network across the state make up the Local College Access Network. These local branches work within their communities to build a college-going culture while working with education leaders to find common education goals.
“I think that is a wonderful partnership that is coming down the pipe,” said Jerry Price, the impact strategies program coordinator for the United Way of Southwest Michigan and the liaison for the Berrien County Local College Access Network (LCAN).
“It is another tool, another resource that school systems can use to ensure they are doing everything possible they can for their students.”
The program, called AdviseMI, seeks to help economically disadvantaged students, first-generation college students and minorities navigate a process that their families might not be familiar with.
In 2013, 57 percent of low-income Michigan students — those participating in the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program — enrolled in college within 12 months of graduating high school. Meanwhile, 77 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students did the same.
“This is the gap we are trying to close,” Johnson said.
Organizers hope the program will also help raise the percentage of Michigan adults with college degrees to 60 percent by 2025.
Right now, 38 percent of Michigan adults ages 25 to 64 have at least an associate degree. Among adults aged 25 to 34, the number is 40 percent, suggesting that younger people are getting more access to higher education.
“Because our work is primarily with high school and college-age students, we are going to more quickly impact that younger segment of the pipeline,” Johnson said. “We think of it as a stronger indicator for how we are progressing as a state and the impact MCAN is really making.”
Johnson founded the Michigan College Access Network in August 2010 after serving as a policy adviser to then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
“When I was working on education policy,” Johnson said, “it was very clear to me that the state lacked a strategic plan or cohesive strategy to help more students make the transition from high school to college.”
Johnson set out to form a network that could serve as a coordinating body to do just that. MCAN invests in college access programs, provides professional development, hosts statewide initiatives that high schools can join, and advocates for policy reform to help more students get to college.
MCAN is a public-private partnership, relying primarily on a state appropriation and groups such as the Kresge and Lumina foundations.
Gov. Rick Snyder has sought additional funding for the organization, but an early draft of the Michigan House education budget does not include Snyder’s $3.6 million request.
“We recognize that a lot of decisions and compromises are going to be made in the committee process, so we have been working very closely with the governor’s office to make sure the governor really fights for this part of the budget,” said Johnson, adding that she plans to personally lobby legislators on the issue.
One of the biggest and best-known programs MCAN takes part in is Michigan College Application Week in the fall.
“We challenge high schools to help 100 percent of their high school seniors apply to at least one college during the school week,” Johnson said. “We have seen tens of thousands of students apply for college that week because of the event.”
By JOSH THALL