I’m so appreciative of the Ford School’s emphasis on the summer internship because it was so invaluable. The internship was the domino that set off the rest of my career. There’s no way I would have started MCAN or be where I am today without that experience.”
Increasing college access has been a top priority for Brandy Johnson (MPP '09). What started as a $2 million grant application Johnson was asked to write during her Ford School internship with Governor Granholm evolved into the highly successful Michigan College Access Network (MCAN). MCAN is a public-private partnership dedicated to helping students obtain certificates and college degrees. “It became very clear that Michigan didn’t have a strategy for helping students make the transition from secondary to postsecondary education,” said Johnson. And for 10 years, Johnson led that effort through MCAN.
A first-generation student, Johnson understands the importance of postsecondary education to a successful career. “Going to college fundamentally changed the trajectory of my life. It wasn’t until graduating college that I realized how much more opportunity was afforded to me,” said Johnson. Even during college, Johnson recalls moments where she questioned whether she belonged in college, noting small things like other students having laptops while she had to trek to the computer lab to do her homework or having no prior background in calculus. Her personal experience in this field has shaped MCAN’s focus to making sure all students know they are college material. “It boils my blood when I hear adults say someone isn’t ‘college material’. I think what people mean when they say that is a 4-year liberal arts education isn’t the best match for every student. Maybe students will excel more in a certification program. That’s not how it’s phrased and low-income students internalize that,” she said.
Johnson was drawn back to state government in 2019 to work as Governor Whitmer’s education policy advisor. “I started out volunteering on her transition team, but during her state of the state address, she adopted her Sixty by 30 postsecondary education attainment goal, which inspired me to join the administration.” Sixty by 30 is an initiative dedicated to increasing the number of individuals in Michigan with a skill certificate, or college degree to 60% by 2030.
Reflecting on her Ford School experience, Johnson noted the opportunities for applied and practical experiences that helped her in her career. “The Ford School goes out of its way to make sure there are courses taught by public policy practitioners.” Courses like Public Budgeting and Nonprofit Management helped her navigate budgeting and appropriations at the state level, and make MCAN into the success it is today.
“I’m so appreciative of the Ford School’s emphasis on the summer internship because it was so invaluable,” said Johnson, “The internship was the domino that set off the rest of my career. There’s no way I would have started MCAN or be where I am today without that experience.” She continues to pay it forward, hiring a Ford School intern each year.