For more than a decade, the seed of an idea to increase access to higher education for Michigan high schoolers has grown and flourished at Michigan State University. The MSU College Advising Corps, or MSUCAC, was established to address the widening gap in college access for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students in Michigan. MSUCAC is committed to serving and supporting these students with the goal of positively impacting enrollment and graduation rates across the state by deploying recent MSU graduates to partner high schools and creating meaningful near-peer Spartan alum adviser relationships to provide support and resources, and to showcase higher education opportunities.
The advising program recruits MSU alums, especially those who are recent graduates (within one to three years of graduation) to serve as advisers in more than 30 high schools across Michigan. Advisers help students with college admission applications, essay writing, SAT/ACT prep, financial aid options and other guidance prior to starting college. While MSU alums do serve as advisers, they do not actively promote applying to MSU, nor do they promote particular colleges or universities over others. To date, MSUCAC has enrolled 1,844 students at MSU.
“For some high school seniors, the college enrollment process can be complicated, confusing and even intimidating to the point where students turn down the prospect of making the leap into higher education,” said Laura Wise, MSUCAC program director. “With MSUCAC, our advisers are equipped with the tools necessary to support the empowerment of our most vulnerable students to make confident, well-informed decisions about their postsecondary education.”
One of the unique strengths of the program is its near-peer model, meaning advisers are recent graduates of MSU and can connect with students differently than those who may be high school staff. Furthermore, the program’s recruiting approach helps to ensure advisers reflect the students and communities they serve. Many advisers have experienced firsthand the same challenges their students face: applying to college as a first-generation student; navigating Pell Grant eligibility; receiving or participating in GearUp, Upward Bound and the Tuition Incentive Program; and needing additional support in preparing families for the road ahead.
These shared experiences create special connections and unique bonds between advisers and students — something in which first-generation college student Kylie First takes pride in. First attended MSU after graduating from Ionia High School and after graduating from MSU in 2013, she decided to serve as the college adviser at her former high school. First then returned to MSU to recruit students to Lyman Briggs College, a science-focused residential college, for more than six years. Coming full circle, she is now back at Ionia High School serving as a school counselor and working with the school’s current MSUCAC adviser.
“Serving with MSUCAC taught me what my purpose was and enabled me to pursue it,” said First. “I learned transferable skills that would be essential in any role that I decided to pursue. I learned how to present, communicate with a wide range of individuals, collaborate and so much more than I ever would have expected.”
Detroit native and first-generation college student Kennisha Williams graduated from MSU in 2017 and began her MSUCAC service work more than three hours away from home at White Cloud High School in White Cloud, Michigan. She admitted she was nervous moving from the hustle and bustle of city life to a slower-paced rural setting. Williams said her experiences helping other underserved and first-generation college students have helped shape her into the person she is today working with the Detroit Promise as its manager of university engagement.
“If not for MSUCAC, I would not be currently working in college access and having success creating free opportunities for students,” Williams said. “Being in the position to help those who usually don’t receive help achieve their college goals is fantastic. I know I’ll be in college access and success for the rest of my life.”
Proof of the program’s success is evidenced not only by the alums who choose to serve underrepresented students, but also by the numbers. Between 2011 and 2022, MSUCAC brought in approximately $13 million in grant funding, allowing the program to positively affect the lives of more than 40,000 high school seniors from 85 partner schools statewide. MSUCAC’s impact included:
- Leading 17,472 one-on-one advising sessions
- Supporting 18,908 senior ACT/SAT registrations
- Assisting with 17,417 college application submissions
- Ensuring 20,000+ Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, completions
- Securing $250 million in financial aid for students
During the 2022-23 academic year alone, more than 4,200 high school seniors from 33 different partner schools benefited from these services.
Michelle Blaszczynski is the principal at Greenville High School in Greenville, Michigan, one of the program’s partner schools this year. Blaszczynski said their current college adviser, Kyle Chandler, through MSUCAC is a vital part of their school and graduating seniors’ success — providing individual meetings with students to assess their next steps for postsecondary education, including completing FAFSA documentation, securing scholarships and encouraging students to find their strengths.
“Kyle hosts a graduation barbecue for seniors and celebrates their accomplishments,” Blaszczynski said. “Individual lockers are decorated with postsecondary education plans as well as workforce decisions. He bridges the best of the past to the best of the future and helps students during an integral time in their lives. Our team would be incomplete without this cornerstone of service.”
MSUCAC strives to fulfill MSU’s mission in connecting with and serving the communities of our state and beyond. The program also reflects the university’s 2030 Strategic Plan’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals of increasing proactive engagement with historically underrepresented and underserved communities and recruiting and supporting a more diverse student body.
“The achievements of MSU’s College Advising Corps are not only impressive but also help anchor our campus as Michigan’s top university of choice for Michigan residents, while increasing proactive engagement with members of underserved communities,” said Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D.
To say MSUCAC is a bountiful success story implies the work is done. But with 10 years of growth and expansion of services, MSUCAC is well positioned to thrive and continue helping thousands of underrepresented students throughout the state find their own success story on the path to postsecondary education and beyond.