Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Investigating the Roles of Community Foundations in the Establishment and Sustainability of Local College Access Networks in Michigan

Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Investigating the Roles of Community Foundations in the Establishment and Sustainability of Local College Access Networks in Michigan

Article excerpt

Keywords: Community foundation, college access, education

Community foundations have a rich history providing support for the advancement of education at all levels. In many communities, the foundation manages locally funded college scholarships to support the college aspirations of families in their service regions. A number of foundations have partnered with local education agencies to test innovative school-reform strategies ranging from vouchers and charter schools to whole school reforms within the public system (McDonald, 2011).

Community-based philanthropy has been an important partner in education for many years and its role has evolved and changed. In this article, we examine the role of community foundations in the creation and establishment of one such evolution in school-reform efforts - local college access networks (LCANs) in the state of Michigan. An LCAN is a community-based college-access coordinating body supported by a team of community and education leaders committed to building a college-going culture and increasing local college attendance and completion rates. There are 48 LCANs in Michigan; 40 have a community foundation as the lead organization or a key member in the LCAN partnership.

In this article, we situate LCAN collaborations in the context of a unique set of social and political factors that have informed the direction the state has taken on college access and success and, in the process, we ask two questions: What role have community foundations played in the formation of LCANs? What challenges have community foundations identified in their efforts to develop LCAN strategies? In addition, we also begin to identify the successes community foundations have identified in their work to promote college access and success within their communities.

We utilize the collective impact model as described by Kania and Kramer (2011) to reflect on the roles, successes, and challenges community foundations identify in their work with LCANs. Other models have been employed to consider elements of the social-change process (Butterfoss, Goodman, & Wandersman, 1993; Kremers, 2011; Strickland, 2009; Vandeventer & Mandell, 2007), but we find that collective impact is useful here for two reasons: It has received considerable attention recently following the work of Kania and Kramer and the successes of the STRIVE cradleto-career education initiative in Cincinnati, and collective impact has been articulated as part of the larger Michigan state strategy to enhance LCAN efforts to increase college access and success. The collective impact model is not intended to isolate the roles of particular partners, but the reports of foundation partners give us some indication of what roles are being played and where more work is necessary. What we report here represents initial findings in a larger formative evaluation of the development and implementation of LCANs in partnership with community foundations. As such, it is important to recognize that community foundations are in the early stages of their work with LCANs and we suspect their roles will evolve over time.

The Michigan Context

Before we consider the role of community foundations in local efforts to promote college access, it is important to consider the state of Michigan's unique social and political context. One of Michigan's critical assets is the network of community foundations throughout the state and the strong, collaborative leadership provided by the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF). Sixty-five community foundations, with assets ranging from $1 million to more than $600 million, operate throughout communities in Michigan. For more than 40 years CMF has served in a coordinating capacity to strengthen, promote, and increase philanthropy in Michigan. Education is a key part of the mission of community foundations and the evolution of college-access strategies represents the most recent iteration of that work for many of those foundations. …

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