How the Michigan Center for Student Success Supports State Policy Efforts

Published oct. 02, 2013

The Michigan Center for Student Success (MCSS) was established in 2011 by the Michigan Community College Association (MCCA) to bring greater coherence to the plethora of ongoing state and local student success initiatives.

The MCSS vision is to serve as a resource hub for Michigan’s 28 community colleges by connecting leaders, administrators, faculty, and staff in their emerging and ongoing efforts to improve student outcomes and emphasizing linkages between their efforts’ practice, research, and policy. MCSS does this with generous funding from The Kresge Foundation and a focus on four interrelated goals:

  1. Supporting practitioners through regular convenings and professional development opportunities;
  2. Promoting innovation and continuous improvement through the use of data;
  3. Developing a sustained student-success research agenda based on the needs of colleges; and
  4. Identifying areas where state-level policy action is needed.

While all four of these goals are important, I’ll focus on the crucial role that state policy has played since MCSS was established and how our policy initiatives reinforce the core advocacy mission of the MCCA.

Michigan is a highly decentralized state that traditionally has had limited state policy for postsecondary education beyond annual appropriations and capital funding. As such, we knew from the start that our ability to impact student outcomes would require us to build a strong grassroots network of innovators (ranging from faculty members to college presidents) that appreciates the value of a collective student success agenda. To this end, much of our emphasis in the first two years has focused on building the infrastructure for sustained dialogue among the institutions and earning the trust of the colleges.

Ongoing conversations with college faculty and staff have surfaced some key issues—college readiness and transfer and articulation—that suggested the need for greater statewide consistency to help our colleges smooth transitions with other educational partners. At the same time these localized issues were emerging, state legislators began to push more aggressively for clarity on the same issues. As a result of the work of MCSS, MCCA was able to quickly and effectively leverage legislative intent to much greater effect because we had already started a dialogue with the colleges. We were able to bridge policy and practice, which is something that is too often missing in policymaking settings, but is precisely what MCSS was designed to do. The result is: Michigan has moved closer to a statewide definition of college readiness, creating an opportunity to align and improve standards and expectations for all students, and revised a 40-year old transfer agreement. These things may have happened without MCSS, but not nearly as quickly or easily without the productive dialogue already underway.

As we come to the end of our initial grant and discuss sustainability, the association’s college presidents have made it clear that the policy activities of MCSS, which are informed by institutional practice and emerging research, are central to their support. While final decisions will be made in the coming months about funding, we have strong indications that the MCCA member colleges will support continuing the important work of the MCSS. This will be in no small part because the policy work in the past two years has provided a direct connection to expectations about the core advocacy mission of the MCCA, the facilitation role of MCSS and, ultimately, how the colleges can collectively respond to the completion agenda.

Chris Baldwin is executive director of the Michigan Center for Student Success. To find out more about the MCSS and its peer Student Success Centers, read JFF’s newest publication Joining Forces