Lake Michigan College Testing New Method of Connecting Low-Income Students to Social Services

September 19, 2012 | MLive |  Link to article

BENTON TOWNSHIP, MI - Lake Michigan College is one of seven colleges across the nation participating in an experimental program to see if coordinated financial help, such as child care subsidies and food assistance, helps low-income students complete a degree.

Twenty-eight students, six of whom were without a stable home, have already received benefits in the program's early stages, according to the college.

The college - along with Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., and five community colleges in other states - will provide low-income students with increased services in hopes of seeing them get the skills they need to find a job.

The colleges will implement the program over three years with a $4.84 million grant  from the Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is also contributing to the initiative. The college, which is part of Benefits Access for College Completion (BACC) initiative, will work with the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) to begin testing the model, according to a college release.

"Our primary goal is to increase the number of area residents with certificates and degrees," LMC President Dr. Robert Harrison said in the release. "All too often, though, obstacles related to stable living situations, food, and reliable child care stand in the way of students completing their education. This initiative is helping our students find resources to allow them to stay in school and get the education they need to enter the workforce with marketable job skills."

The pilot program aims to connect low-income students with income supports such as child care subsidies and food assistance by giving them easier access to benefit screenings and applications assistance. By helping students fill out applications, connect with local food banks, and connect with the 2-1-1 system that serves Berrien, Van Buren, Cass, and Allegan counties. 

The 2-1-1 system is a telephone number that connects people with community services and volunteer opportunities, supported by United Way of America and the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS).

The initiative will be evaluated to see if the students stay in school longer and complete their studies more quickly. The initiative's aim is to help students complete their studies swiftly and successfully and move into jobs earning family-sustaining wages so they will be less likely to need such supports in the future, according to the college release.

In 2011, LMC joined the Michigan Benefits Network, a pilot program linking eligible students with existing public support programs with the aim of increasing student retention and graduation rates, and then was asked to join the national BACC's program.

Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, Gateway Community and Technical College in Kentucky, LaGuardia Community College in New York, Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania and Skyline College in California are the other institutions participating in the program. 

The pilot period for this initiative will last from the fall 2012 semester through 2014, after which BACC will share the most successful strategies and lessons learned with policymakers and other community colleges nationwide to improve retention and credential completion.

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