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AUSTIN, Texas — Two years ago, Kevin Pollock was at a reception to meet community members as the new president of St. Clair County Community College (SC4) in Michigan when Kevin Miller approached him. The local K-12 superintendent’s first words to Pollock were “We need to talk.”
Miller wanted to get started on a partnership between Croswell-Lexington Schools and SC4 as soon as possible. In a rural area with a high unemployment rate and where only 9 percent of the residents had a bachelor’s degree, he saw collaboration between the two systems as critical to develop a college-going culture.
That culture would fit into the area’s economic strategic plan: An educated, skilled local workforce draws employers.
Pollock and Miller quickly began working together, developing an early college program for selected students that would allow them to earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree in five years. CL5 was born. The two leaders outlined the program at the annual National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development conference this week.
A vigorous experience
CL5 students take high school courses in the morning and college courses in the afternoon. What makes the program unique is that SC4 faculty members come to the rural high school—which is about 40 minutes away—to teach the classes so students can still participate in high school activities, such as sports.
The K-12 system pays the full tuition for the students to take the college courses. Students only pay for books and AP exam fees.
When Miller pitched the idea to his school board and local officials, he noted that the partnership would actually reduce the cost of a higher education for students. Students could attain six years of education (four at high school and two years at a community college) in five years. Factoring in tuition and transportation costs, it amounted to about $13,000 in savings for each student.
To participate, high school students must apply in their freshman year. They must maintain minimum benchmarks, including a grade-point average of at least 2.75, have good standardized test scores, provide teacher recommendations and submit an essay.
If accepted, students must in their sophomore year commit to an extra year at the high school by signing a letter of intent. If for any reason they cannot continue in the program, they agree to reimburse the school district for incurred tuition expenses.
Of the 178 students at the high school, 41 juniors participated in CL5 this year, the program’s first year. Twenty-seven of those students made SC4’s honor roll for the semester. Next year, high school officials expect about the same number of juniors to join the program.
CL5 is designed for students who can handle college work, but mainly for financial reasons can’t go to college. Miller said he noticed many students fell into that category after he met a 2007 high school valedictorian working in a local sandwich shop. He noted she should have been in college at the time instead of working full time.
The college courses in the program are not watered-down, Pollock said.
“They have to be able to handle the workload just like any student coming into to SC4,” he said.
In fact, the college courses offered at the high school campus—which include microcomputer applications, speech communications and introductions to political science and psychology—are open to the public. Recently, seven adults—who pay their own way—enrolled in the information technology class taught at the high school.
Feedback from students
Students initially had a few concerns about participating in CL5, mostly for social reasons. For example, some students were worried that they would not graduate with the rest of their class. But the high school will allow them to walk at graduation with the entire graduating class—and the following year they will walk at the SC4 graduation ceremony and receive their college degrees.
Karen Brandon, a high school counselor for CL5, polled the first cohort of students to find out what they liked and didn’t like about the program. On the “pros” list: taking the college courses at the high school campus, jump starting their higher education and having it paid for, and the student-teacher ratio in the classes. The cohort has also bonded, even printing CL5 T-shirts.
Among the “cons” were harder classes and larger work loads, challenging schedules, and more e-mails and passwords to remember for the college courses. Those were expected, noted Brandon.
CL5 officials are looking at how to further develop the program and use its lessons to help other students at the high school. For example, organizers are examining how to create a curriculum and a collegiate environment for students who rarely see what colleges are like. They are also looking at how to make more parents aware of CL5’s opportunities.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges