Local College Access Networks (LCANs) are community-based college access alliances supported by a team of community and education leaders representing K-12, higher education, the nonprofit sector, government, business and philanthropy. These networks are committed to building a college-going culture and dramatically increasing college readiness, participation and completion rates within their community. Each year, individuals working in an LCAN attend Maritime Academy, where they undergo a rigorous, three-day comprehensive training in order to strengthen their college access strategy. 

In the pursuit of increasing the quality of life for our communities, we recognize the importance of key metrics identified by the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) that are also supported by a wealth of economic and social research. Using a Collective Impact approach to analyzing the relevant data associated with these metrics, through the eyes of a diverse group of stakeholders can be a daunting challenge. The work is complicated, but if navigated effectively through a Collective Impact method, it leads to a much richer appreciation for the most significant factors which determine the quality of life of our communities.

For many years, Local College Access Network (LCAN) efforts have been regionalized around the greater Ottawa county area, which is one of the most economically active and densely populated areas in Michigan. The economy has been strong, even at times when other parts of the state have struggled. This has only amplified our need to meet the talent demands of our employers while assuring lifetime opportunities are never traded away for immediate rewards. Lifelong learning is the key to prosperity at the individual and family-unit level. The tension we realize between exposing our students to immediate career opportunities and positioning them for a pathway of credential attainment puts us in the middle of today’s urgent demands and tomorrow’s possibilities.

Thankfully, the Maritime Academy developed and facilitated by MCAN allowed for a full team from the Ottawa area to come for an intense and thoughtfully designed dive into not just the process, but the logic of constructing our own region-wide network. The theme makes sense, as so much of the work requires stepping away from some traditionally-kept practices and understandings, and venturing into ‘uncharted waters’. We were especially thankful for the knowledge and expertise of the MCAN staff, and their commitment to support the work that must be done uniquely in each network. We were equally encouraged by the leaders MCAN assembled to pursue our most ambitious improvement targets, with relevant outcome measures that stand the scrutiny of our stakeholders.

Upon returning from the Maritime Academy, we have already found applications for the content and methods cultivated that week. Members of our LCAN team are using the vocabulary and expanding our own network of stakeholders. Conversations in many groups often turn to the shared interests that might best be addressed in a coalition approach, through our LCAN. Diverse constituents are focusing on the metrics we are able to explain in much greater detail. The energy is truly encouraging and inspiring!

While this energy is encouraging and inspiring, one of the most important learnings from the Maritime Academy had to do with a very fundamental concept - what the role and position our LCAN needs to play across the community. The members of both our LCAN leadership and action teams care deeply about the educational success of individuals across our community. It is exactly because of this deep care and desire to help our community that we often fall prey to “solutionitis,” that eternal search for the next program or intervention to fix the problem. The Maritime Academy was a much-needed reminder that our LCAN must rise above developing new programs and interventions and operate at the systems level. It is only through this level of focus that we will truly be able to change credential attainment outcomes for all individuals across our community.

We look forward to the continued support from MCAN as we grow our own capacity to meet the needs in our learning community!

Peter Haines is a member of the Ottawa County College Access Network, serves as the Superintendent of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, and attended Advanced Maritime Academy.