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How We Got Started

Collaborative college access and readiness work began in Detroit during the spring of 2013 when a group of cross- sector organizations came together in an effort to increase FAFSA completion rates in the city of Detroit. The group was known as the “College Ready” team and Excellent Schools Detroit served as the group’s anchor organization. Partners included the Detroit Regional Chamber, Michigan College Access Network, the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, The Skillman Foundation, Accounting Aid Society and school leaders.


The College Ready team launched and implemented a FAFSA completion campaign that successfully increased citywide FAFSA application rates to 73% from the 54% baseline. Working with schools, community members, counselors, and other partners, this group set a common FAFSA completion goal, created a shared measurement system, participated in reinforcing activities and engaged in continuous communication to successfully implement the campaign — all key components of a successful collective impact effort.


The campaign included informational and training events for school counselors, college access personnel, and community members. During the events, the team discussed the importance of FAFSA and provided cohesive instructions on how to help students and families complete the form. The resulting FAFSA Completion Campaign paid off and 73% of high school seniors completed their FAFSA. Additionally, 24 of 39 Detroit high schools exceeded a 70% FAFSA completion rate that year, more than double the ten schools that met that mark during the previous year. In 2014-15, the partners launched another successful FAFSA completion campaign reaching 70% FAFSA completion and established a citywide college week that included decision day events, college-going workshops, and college tours for Detroit students.


The momentum from the successful FAFSA campaigns motivated the group to create the Detroit College Access Network (DCAN) as a more formal structure for working collaboratively to increase college enrollment, persistence, and graduation rates among Detroit students. In 2014-15, Excellent Schools Detroit (ESD) received seed funding from Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), the Council of Michigan Foundations, and the Lumina Foundation to support the development and formalization of DCAN as a formal local college access network. 

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