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Local Networks Pool Resources to Boost College-Going Rates

Many high schools lack the resources on their own to get more students on the pathway to college. In Michigan, leaders from K-12, higher education, businesses, and community nonprofits are working together to promote college enrollment and completion—and other states are looking to replicate the collaborative model.

There are 50 Local College Access Networks - or LCANs - in Michigan that set common goals and coordinate college-readiness efforts. It started four years ago when the Michigan College Access Network gave seed money (through the Lumina Foundation) to set up LCANs. MCAN has since has provided technical assistance to keep the groups going and many are seeing results.

 (The Lumina Foundation supports coverage of P-16 alignment in Education Week.)

"We are using existing resources more efficiently to grow the pie," said Brandy Johnson, the executive director of MCAN. "There were lots of well-intentioned programs working in complete isolation."

The members of the LCANs include leaders across sectors, such as superintendents, chamber of commerce executives, community college presidents, and CEOs of community foundations, who meet four to 12 times a year to develop college-enrollment strategies and hold each other accountable for their progress.

The LCAN in St. Clair County, in eastern Michigan, has helped raise college enrollment among high school graduates in the St. Clair Independent School District from 56 percent in 2008 to 66 percent in 2013. Members of the network helped pay for taking students on tours of nearby colleges, bringing college professors into the high schools to teach classes, hosting parent meetings about financial aid, and hiring six new college access advisers in high schools across the district.

Extra attention was focused on supports to an urban high school in the county serving a large population of low-income students where college-going went from 46 percent to 71 percent in that period. At the high school with the highest proportion of high-income families, about 72 percent of graduates go on to college.

"We've functionally closed the college-enrollment gap from the poorest and richest schools," says Dan DeGrow, the superintendent of district. "We've abolished income as a reason not to go to college."

The network in Detroit targeted raising completion rates for the Free Application for Federal Students Aid (FAFSA). In 2012, 54 percent of Detroit high school seniors completed the FAFSA and the new goal was to have 70 percent completion by July 1, 2013.

Training was provided to counselors and MCAN reported back data every two weeks on progress made at each high school, said Ashley Johnson, K-12 program manager for Excellent Schools Detroit, who worked on the project.  Schools that were far behind met with peers from other schools that were having success to share strategies, she said.  Last year, 73 percent of seniors filed the FAFSA and the hope is to maintain that level again this year.

Other states, such as Florida, Minnesota, and Virginia, are exploring setting up LCANS, said Johnson of the Michigan College Access Network. A free downloadable book with details on how to set up local networks is available on the MCAN website.

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