GVSU researchers get $1 million grant to study student success program

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Researchers at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy have received a $1.05 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to study a Michigan Department of Human Services program aimed at helping students in 169 Michigan schools and their families succeed. 

The grant will allow staff in the Johnson Center’s Community Research Institute to study the “Pathways to Potential” program model and evaluate whether the program is meeting its goals. The program works by placing case workers in schools to help remove barriers to student success. Called “success coaches,” the case workers are stationed in schools so they can provide services to families in a convenient location rather than the families having to visit government offices to seek assistance.

The grant will cover three years of research at 169 schools in 13 counties statewide. The Johnson Center will examine data from Pathways schools and conduct surveys of parents, teachers and students. It will assess whether different Pathways models work better in different schools and evaluate whether schools that have better connections with community partners – a goal of Pathways to Potential – have greater gains in student outcomes. The evaluation also will analyze the return on investment for the school initiative.

“We’ve been excited to see improved attendance and others signs of success at our Pathways schools,” said DHS Director Maura Corrigan. “DHS welcomes the opportunity to have an independent evaluation of this exciting new project to help families reach their full potential.”

Gov. Rick Snyder said the program helps Michigan families that find themselves in need. 

“We know that many children struggle in school because of outside of school challenges affecting both students and their families,” Snyder said. “The goal of Pathways to Potential is the reduce or eliminate those challenges by connecting families to the services they need to help everyone become more successful.” 

The Johnson Center earlier evaluated the Kent School Services Network, a project in Kent County schools that in part served as a model for Pathways.

“Pathways to Potential has the opportunity to greatly improve the lives of Michigan students and their families, and our research team is excited to begin the long-term evaluation of the program,” said Community Research Institute Senior Researcher Jodi Petersen. “This research is a model of providing third-party evaluation for government programming with foundation support. We are hopeful our research will help the program’s success in the long run.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) was founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer Will Keith Kellogg, and is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek.

Established in 1992 with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy promotes effective philanthropy, community improvement and excellence in nonprofit leadership through teaching, research and service. The Johnson Center is recognized for its applied research and professional development benefitting practitioners and nonprofits through its Community Research Institute, Frey Foundation Chair for Family Foundations and Philanthropy, The Foundation Review, The Grantmaking School, Johnson Center Philanthropy Archives and Library and Nonprofit Services.

For more information, visit johnsoncenter.org.