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College Access Network aims to get more students into college

While a future that includes a college education is a given for some high school students, the Marquette-Alger College Access Network is developing an initiative that will encourage all area students to seek education beyond the high school classroom. It's part of a larger statewide plan to help more Michigan students attend, and succeed in, college.
For some students, going on to college after high school is a fact of life. For others, it's a hard-fought-for dream. But for some high school students, going on to college is not even on their radar.

With the help of an $8,000 planning grant from the Michigan College Access Network, the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development in Marquette is developing the Marquette-Alger College Access Network.

The network is designed to work with area schools, businesses and communities to create an initiative to increase awareness among all students of the possibilities they have for pursuing an education beyond the high school classroom.

According to its website, MCAN's mission is to "dramatically increase the college participation and completion rate in Michigan, particularly among low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color."

The vision for the organization is "to ensure that everyone in Michigan has the opportunity to access and succeed in post-secondary education."

Linda Remsburg, youth development associate for the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development, based in Marquette, says the grant will help create a local initiative to pursue the network's goals.

"(It will) strengthen what’s already going on (in area schools) and fill the gaps. The idea is to get more kids graduating. It doesn’t have to be college; it can be any other secondary program," she explains.

So besides the traditional four-year degree, other options might include professional certification, specialized job training, technical programs, or two-year degrees.

The center will begin by finding out what factors exist in Marquette and Alger counties that keep students from going to college.

Some reasons students do not pursue further education beyond high school may include lack of knowledge about financial aid sources, not feeling encouraged to pursue further education, or having parents who didn't continue their educations beyond high school and are unaware of further educational resources available to their children.

"We're surveying schools to see what they’re doing right now related to college access," says Remsburg. "We want to bring in a group of young people and find out from them what they feel the issues are. There are kids in our area who don’t know their way to navigate into college, or think they can’t afford it."

And, the crucial point seems to be in high school and directly after, when plans to go to college don't always materialize.

"We do an asset survey and a sidebar survey about plans after graduation. Sixty-eight percent of eighth, tenth and twelfth graders surveyed in 2010 said their plans were for four or more years of college. But the reality is that the number of kids who go to college and end up with a four-year degree is much less. We’re trying to find out what the barriers are right now," Remsburg says.

Andrew Krunkleton, acting director of Marquette Alternative High School, says the network has the potential to connect his students to the college world by overcoming the barriers they currently face.

Right now, about 20 to 25 percent of MAHS seniors go on to post-secondary education, and Krunkleton would like to see that number be much higher. He says the low college-bound rate is directly related to lack of access to resources.
"I hope to see a door open to them that allows easier, more clearly defined access to the college world. Some of our students lack access to resources," he says. "We have some of the brightest kids in Marquette, and I hope this will put them on an even footing with kids from more traditional schools."

Another goal of the Marquette-Alger network will be to acquaint students with higher education options beginning in elementary school in order to familiarize them with the idea of an educational future beyond the high school classroom.

"It would also mean that people in the community, as well as in the schools, would all be giving that same message, that (higher education) is something you need and there is help out there to achieve a degree," Remsburg says.

So far, the partners signing on to further the network's goals in Marquette and Alger counties include the Marquette, Gwinn, Munising and Burt Township schools, Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency, Northern Michigan University, Big Brothers Big Sisters, YMCA, Lake Superior Community Partnership, Michigan Works!, Wattsson and Wattsson Jewelers and the Marquette County Community Foundation.

Bringing together leaders from every section of the community is a core goal of the network, which uses the principles of "collective impact," to make lasting social change. Collective impact means using the knowledge and resources of several sectors of the community to work on the issue at several points along the educational path to college.

What the community's role would be in creating a college-going culture has not yet been identified, but will be considered during the planning process. One thing's certain: more local college-going students translates to economic benefits for the community in the long run.

"That’s the idea, to have a highly effective, highly trained, highly educated workforce," says Remsburg.

With Michigan's economy floundering and the job market growing increasingly competitive, having an education beyond high school is becoming ever more critical for young people seeking secure, successful futures. Remsburg sees the creation of a college-going culture as a key to students' future successes.

"We’re not looking at this as a program. We’re looking at it as a network, people looking at this issue and figuring it out together and coordinating resources and finding out what we need and who can do it and how we can do it. It’s really a community initiative," she says.

Similar initiatives also are starting all over the state; the Marquette-Alger network is one of 41 such networks in the state, and one of four in the U.P. One covers Keweenaw, Houghton and Baraga counties; another is in Delta and Schoolcraft counties, and the third pursues its goals in Chippewa, Luce and Mackinac counties.

Deb Pascoe of Marquette is a freelance writer and a peer recovery coach for Child and Family Services of the U.P. A former columnist for The Mining Journal, her book, "Life With a View," a collection of her past columns, is available in area bookstores.

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