Thanks in part to a $7,500 grant from the Saginaw Community Foundation
's At-Risk Youth Fund, the Michigan College Advising Corps has a stronger footing than ever at Saginaw High School.
The grant funds a program that targets students most in need of assistance with furthering their education, and helps them facilitate the process.
"MCAC helps increase the number of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students entering and completing higher education," says Emily Flinkstrom, MCAC's program coordinator. "MCAC recruits and trains a University of Michigan graduate to work full time as a college adviser at Saginaw High School."
Following in the tradition of the AmeriCorps and Teach for America programs, the MCAC trains the advisers to work for one or two years. Saginaw High's current adviser is Brian Harris, who serves as an important resource for Saginaw students to navigate every aspect of the college-going process.
The program has a successful record of accomplishment at Saginaw High. Under former adviser and Saginaw native Ryan McBride, who filled the same role at his alma mater from school years 2010-11 through 2011-12, the seniors working the program secured approximately $736,000 in scholarships and grants in his first year. That number jumped to $1.2 million in 2011-2012.
"Every year, we want to improve on the number of students we helped the year before, and we hope to increase the amount of financial aid we can secure," says Harris, who graduated from University of Michigan earlier this year with a bachelor of arts degree in sports management. "Last year, 97 percent of the seniors applied and were accepted to college. This year our goal is to have 100 percent apply and be accepted. We also are looking to increase the amount of financial aid we secure.
"If our goal isn't to do better than the year before, then I shouldn't be here," he says.
The program strives to increase students' chances of success in postsecondary education by focusing on the best fit between the students and their college choices. The program also works to assist principals, counselors and teachers foster a college-going culture at Saginaw High and the surrounding community.
"The cultural aspect is very important, both in the school and in the community," Harris says. "We want to get the students, the parents, everyone involved, to start thinking about how to further education and how to make it possible.
"I made three presentations to community groups last week, and I plan to do more to get them involved. Education inequality is not just about seniors in high school; it's disparities in communities."
Harris is part of a program that is nationwide and is having a real impact. MCAC is one of 15 constituent programs in the National College Advising Corps
, a consortium of colleges and universities whose aim is to increase the number of first-generation college students in the United States. It started at the University of Virginia in 2004, and received a large grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation in 2007.
That's when the National College Advising Corps was formed and moved to the University of North Carolina.
Harris is one of 269 advisers nationally serving 153 high schools and community colleges. In all, about 112,000 students are assisted each year.
"It's satisfying to be part of something that truly is making a difference in students' lives," Harris says. "The kids are so eager to learn about how to get into school. Some of them know a little bit about the process, but most of them really have a lot to learn.
"I've been busy since day one and there hasn't been one slow time in the two months I've been here. I've been working mostly with the seniors, but there are even juniors who are getting a head start on next year."
Because the college application process is different for every student, Harris performs a wide array of duties each day. This variety helps keep his job satisfying.
"There are so many options out there, from community colleges on up, with financial aid, grants, scholarships," Harris says. "These kids just soak it up, and it's fun just to watch them get excited about school.
"I've only been here a short time, but already I see that Saginaw High is a good place to be."
Jeff Barr is a freelance writer who has lived in Michigan for 46 years. You can reach Jeff at email@example.com.