ESCANABA - A local college access network is one of many involved in a national movement aimed to reach a 60 percent college attainment goal by 2025, and has implemented a number of initiatives to inch closer to this goal.
The Delta County College Access Network (DCCAN) has been in existence for approximately two years, and is part of the larger Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), which in turn is part of a national movement. DCCAN was originally created from grant funding through MCAN, as well as from local grants and community support.
According to DCCAN director Sara Cole, the network consists of representatives from K-12 education, higher education, business, industry, government, philanthropy, and youth-serving non-profit groups. DCCAN is currently working with Escanaba, Gladstone, Bark-River Harris and Nah Tah Wahsh schools, and Bay Middle College.
DCCAN strives to: increase college admissions and financial advising; offer college preparation and academic support; increase college readiness, motivation, and self-management; provide students with career exploration tools and career counseling to increase awareness of future jobs; and provide family advising and engagement services to foster a life-long learning mindset in the community.
"What we're out to do is identify what other people are doing to serve our youth in Delta County," explained Cole. "Everything that we do is to reach that 60 percent of college level attainment by 2025, so the economic significance for our population having high-quality post-secondary credentials is huge. We can't attract businesses if we don't have a skilled workforce to begin with."
Cole highlighted one program the network implemented to promote academic readiness at James T. Jones Elementary School in Gladstone.
"We took a pilot group of third, fourth, and fifth-graders who were not at benchmark...and we had the teachers identify who they thought we would most likely be able to help," she said.
The students met twice a week after-school with eighth-grade honors students who helped the students with their homework - particularly in areas of math and reading.
"We saw, on average, a 50 percent increase in report card grades after the first marking period that we had them and about a 40 percent increase after the second marking period that we had them," said Cole, noting after the success of that pilot program, there are plans to duplicate the program in some form throughout all schools that DCCAN serves.
They also played a role in creating a partnership between Bay Middle College and the Math-Science Center at Bay College, where math and science center tutors would provide their services to Bay Middle College students at no cost.
Another highlight is the implementation of a curriculum developed by a Bay College staff member that focuses on study skills, self-motivation, and having a positive work ethic and positive habits so students are better prepared to learn and are more organized. This curriculum has even spiraled into a stand-alone class for students at one of the DCCAN-serviced schools.
DCCAN has also worked on enhancing dual enrollment, where high school students earn college credit while still in school at no cost to them.
"We're also really highly focused on that financial preparedness. Over 65 percent of our students, on average, have free and reduced lunch," said Cole. "My hope is that at least those 65 percent of students apply for the FAFSA, the Free Application For Student Aid."
She encourages all students to fill out a FAFSA form, as there are many ways a student can qualify for money to help pay for education or qualify for federal loans.
DCCAN also strives to align and address services already available to youth throughout Delta County.
"There are so many organizations that serve youth in Delta County," said Cole. "We want to align what services are already being provided so that our students K-12 can participate in all of these things in some kind of a linear manner."
Cole said ultimately any post-secondary education credential helps students, including military and trades programs, as it is expected that 62 percent of Michigan's jobs will require some type of post-secondary education by 2018.
"I don't just want to promote Bay or just promote NMU. It's anything after high school, so if you want to go to Paul Mitchell School or go into the trades. The trades have great programs. There's a lot of kids that are hands-on that don't want to sit in a college classroom for four years. That's perfectly fine," she said.
For more information on DCCAN, visit www.dccan.net.