MSU uses $1.3M grant to improve college and workforce readiness

MSU Today

Michigan State University will use a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help more low-income and minority high school students enroll in college.

Led by Barbara Schneider, John A. Hannah University Distinguished Professor, the two-year grant will allow the College Ambition Program to expand on and improve how students are prepared for college and the workforce.

The CAP program, created in 2011 and based on 15 years of Schneider’s research, is a Michigan high school-based model that combines multiple strategies – including course counseling, mentoring and financial aid advising – to help students achieve postsecondary success.

As part of the grant, the program’s successful initiatives will be introduced in a new online platform, where students earn badges that are markers of performance, perseverance and achievement. This will further digitize and personalize the college preparatory experience, allowing students to take ownership over their learning.

In addition, CAP will promote and provide more business and community internships. These experiences – in locations such as robotics companies, vertical farming startups and state-of-the-art medical rehabilitation clinics – will increase student interest, knowledge and skills in high-tech job disciplines.

“Through these experiences, students will develop competencies that can help them acquire out-of-school knowledge and skills that their more advantaged peers are likely to receive through their families and community social networks,” Schneider said.
To accomplish these aims, the CAP team utilizes trained science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) staff in dedicated centers in schools, as well as MSU graduate assistants and researchers.

The program focuses primarily on juniors and seniors in 11 high schools in the Detroit and Lansing areas.

Many minority and underserved adolescents remain ill-equipped for the rapidly changing workforce, Schneider said. Students often have drive and ambition but lack the opportunity and information to succeed. CAP was created to change the culture of schools serving these students to help better prepare them.

Since the program began, it has increased college enrollment by 8 percent each year among treatment schools compared to control schools. This new phase intends to improve on this effect.

“If we want to help these students, we need to create a program that they feel is authentic and created for them specifically,” Schneider said. “Using student feedback, CAP mentors, business and university partners, we can give our students new and attainable paths to college and future labor markets.”