By Erin Albanese
Senior D’Nyszha Brand was accepted into six colleges: Baker College, Ferris State University, Wayne State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Aquinas College and Western Michigan University.
She’s decided to attend GRCC for her associate degree before transferring to a university, maybe Ferris, to major in business and minor in psychology. “It’s the cheapest way to go and I will save more money,” she said.
D’Nyszha said she probably wouldn’t have applied to so many colleges, or realized how to meet her postsecondary goals, if it weren’t for the Michigan College Access Network representative who helped her. Jeremy Bissett had an office at Godwin Heights for 20 hours a week until mid-spring, helping students apply, submit and complete all the other paperwork to get into college.
“It was very helpful because I would go to my mom and ask her what to do and she would say, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know,'” said D’Nyszha, who will be the first person in her family to go to college.
Bissett reminded her often about deadlines and what was required. “He helped me in so many ways. Not only did he help me with my (college) stuff, he taught me different life skills,” she said. Without him, she added, “I probably would have only applied to GRCC, honestly.”
Accepted, Again and Again
At Godwin Heights, students recently gathered in the hallway wearing #accepted T-shirts to celebrate their “yes” notifications. A total of 111 of the 137 seniors, or 81 percent, were accepted at 27 colleges.
That’s a great start for students at Godwin Heights, where more than 80 percent come from financially disadvantaged families and 59 percent of seniors this year could be first-generation college-goers.
Godwin Heights received an Innovative Program Grant from MCAN to fund a dedicated college adviser, Bissett. It’s just one way the network supports Michigan schools in helping students access college.
“We are super proud of Godwin’s results,” said Sarah Anthony, MCAN deputy director for partnerships and advocacy. “We knew being in that community would be serving low-income, first-generation college students and students of color.”
The goal of Lansing-based MCAN is to increase the percentage of Michigan residents with degrees or postsecondary certificates to 60 percent by the year 2025. According to 2014 Census figures, 39.3 percent of Michigan’s 5.2 million working-age adults (ages 25-64) hold a two- or four-year college degree, an increase from the previous year’s rate of 38.4 percent. This is the sixth year in a row that Michigan’s degree attainment rate has increased.
But there’s work to be done. According to data from MCAN, out of every 100 ninth-graders in Michigan, 73 graduate from high school on time; 45 enroll into postsecondary education within 12 months of graduation; 32 persist from their first to their second year; and 18 graduate with a degree within six years.
According to Mischooldata.org, within six months of graduation, 55.8 percent of 2016 Godwin Heights grads were enrolled in a two- or four-year college or university.
Building a College-Prep Culture
Bissett spent much of his time meeting with students, ensuring they were on track with the application process and walking them through applications for financial aid.
“The biggest benefit I see with the MCAN partnership has been the one-on-one time,” said counselor Tish Stevenson. “An adult sitting down one-on-one is immensely important.”
Bissett said he was just a piece of the puzzle. At Godwin Heights, there’s a multi-pronged effort to prepare students. It includes college visits; work to improve literacy across all content areas; and preparing students for the workforce or college by developing communication and collaboration skills. Staff provides many opportunities to meet college representatives right at school.
“It’s putting that option in their purview,” said counselor Kristi Bonilla. “We get them in tangible contact with people and places.”
“I think they are establishing a culture there that is college prep, and are getting more students wanting to be engaged in that,” Bissett said. “They are doing great work.”
After being added to the state’s Priority Schools list in 2012, Godwin Heights also put many measures in place to boost achievement. In 2016, the high school received a five-year School Improvement Grant, approved by the Michigan Department of Education, that will include allocations of $750,000 a year for the first three years and $500,000 a year for the final two.
The work is paying off. The school was removed this year from the state’s Priority Schools list, and has climbed from a 0 percentile rank in 2012-2013 to a 27th percentile rank in 2015-2016.
Said high school data coach Kristin Haga, “We are moving in the right direction.”
Check out School News Network for more stories about students, schools, and faculty in West Michigan.