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Is starting college during high school Michigan's ticket to success?

The Pathways to Success Academic Campus in Ann Arbor was designed to meet the needs of high school students who were not able to achieve success in the traditional high school model.

A group of Pathways students in Ann Arbor gather in discussion.

A group of Pathways students in Ann Arbor gather in discussion.

Tyrone Weeks engages with Pathways to Success students in Ann Arbor.

Tyrone Weeks is the co-principal of the Pathways to Success Academic Campus in Ann Arbor.

Tyrone Weeks is the co-principal of the Pathways to Success Academic Campus in Ann Arbor.

Pathways students taking part in a community service project sponsored by the Community Action Network held at the Bryant Community Center.

Imagine a future where every Michigan student not only went to college, but started that collegiate career before they even left high school.
What would that mean for our state? For our high school graduation rates? For our economy? For the kids who are often forgotten? For those struggling to break out of poverty?
How would it change our culture? Our ability to compete and innovate?
From the top down
Earlier this year, Governor Rick Snyder gave a clear call to action in his State of the State Address: improve education in the state of Michigan.
Specifically, the Governor called for “robust collaboration between high schools and higher education to create new opportunities and cost savings for students.”
And the call to action is necessary.
Michigan has long lagged behind the nation in the percentage of our population with college degrees, and in the past decade per capita income has fallen to almost directly correlate.
From No Child Left Behind to state education rankings to standardized tests, it can feel like the conversation about public education in our state has moved pretty far away from kids and teachers.
And yet, across the state, a different approach to academics has quietly gained momentum, focused on student success and providing students with the skills necessary to succeed in college.
Because those students are taking college classes before they ever graduate high school.
College and high school in one
For the past decade or so, early colleges have popped up in school districts throughout Michigan. These schools combine high school and college courses in innovative, supportive environments.
The results? Ninety percent of early college students receive a diploma vs. 78 percent of students nationally, according to Jobs for the Future, an advocacy group
To see how Michigan educational institutions are already assuming the mantle, we’ll take a look at successful early college programs in each of the InspirED regions.
Looking beyond the traditional high school
The Pathways to Success Academic Campus in Ann Arbor was designed to meet the needs of high school students who were not able to achieve success in the traditional high school model. Thanks to the dedication and inspiration of Pathways faculty, those students now have the opportunity to achieve college success as well.
“We provide our students with an instructional model that is centered on the students’ individual needs, while infusing rigorous and relevant academic training that prepares students for college,” said Pathways Co-Principal, Tyrone Weeks. “Our program offers a traditional academic model, but also offers extended evening classes.”  
Meeting student needs starts with the essentials: Pathways offers childcare for its parent-students and recently introduced a dinner program. Weeks says these accommodations have allowed more students to enroll in the early college program, which runs in partnership with Washtenaw Community College.
A new program compared to others across the state, Weeks says the 2014 early college year began with an assessment of juniors and seniors with the entrance exam from WCC; the COMPASS test.
“This assessment is provided to students to ensure their potential for success while taking college classes,” said Weeks. “Eligible students participate in a soft skills class that is geared towards ensuring that they possess the social skills needed to navigate a college career successfully.”
Pathways teacher Sam Stern says the assessment addresses the buzzword “college readiness.”

“You hear this a lot around schools and in the education conversation, ‘college readiness.’ You can talk at students all you want about being ready for college, but truly preparing them requires a program that creates a relationship with college, rather than just telling them to work towards something that’s down the line. Early college makes it real,” says Stern. “Our students have shown success and are eager to continue in the program.”  
Lansing Community College focuses on success skills
Like many early college programs, the Early College at Lansing Community College in Lansing employs a team of partners dedicated to student success.
“We work with the Ingham Intermediate School District and other business and industry leaders who are committed to developing a college-level curriculum for diploma completion and advanced training for work in high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers,” says Steven Rosales, direct of the Early College at Lansing Community College.
LCC has developed a unique early college curriculum called Success Skills. 

“Success Skills are learned behaviors that positively influence academic and job achievement,” explains Rosales. “These behaviors include showing up for class, being prepared, following-through, communicating effectively and taking responsibility for one’s actions. Adopting these behaviors and putting words into action helps students to exhibit college and career readiness and to succeed in college and career.”
The LCC program also offers students constant faculty mentoring. Mentors follow their students for the three years of the program and meet regularly with them to ensure that they are effectively applying those success skills in their daily lives.
“We also provide our students with career readiness activities,” says Rosales. “These activities provide vital exposure and experience to our student when deciding what career is best for them.” Activities include college campus visits, mock interviews, resume preparation, presentations from local businesses, career exploration, and end-of-year portfolio presentations. 

When tuition, textbooks, transportation and room and board are factored in, LCC estimates a savings of between $25,000 and $50,000 for early college students.
Michigan state law mandates that school districts pay qualified students’ costs for eligible classes when pursuing postsecondary education while enrolled in high school. These costs include tuition, course and materials fees, and sometimes textbooks. Students may need to pay transportation, parking, and activity fees, depending on the high school-college partnership agreement.
Five years, two degrees
To Wendy Fought, director of Student Outreach and Engagement at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey, early colleges matter.
“Early colleges are an avenue to reach students who might not think they are college material, she says. “We can also reach students who might be a first generational student who hasn’t been raised in an environment of college-going family members, or those students who are financially unable to attend college.”
NCMC has designed an early college program model called North Central Now!, which allows high school students to obtain an associate degree and their high school diploma by staying one extra year of high school. 

“We partner with area high schools to begin early college in the students’ sophomore year,” Fought says. “During their sophomore, junior, senior and fifth years, students take their Michigan Merit Curriculum courses along with North Central’s college courses.”
The fifth year is completely on the college campus and high schools hold back the final math experience requirement of the MMC to be completed during the fifth year, which allows the high schools to collect the student per pupil funding. That funding is used to pay the college tuition and textbook cost and the final math experience course can be a college class which counts for both high school credit and college credit – a win for the student, high school and college.
In addition to the services described above, North Central Now! begins with a “First Year Experience” college course in the sophomore year. The course is designed to help the students master the skills to be successful college students. 
“Students learn early on that they can be successful in college, which helps inspire those that might not have thought college was for them or was out of reach financially,” says Fought.
Multiple models, one collegiate goal
Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor works to ensure a diversity of students benefit from early college by employing multiple early college models.

“We partner closely with 64 regional school districts, technical center and academy programs to deliver a variety of early college programming,” says Candice Elders, Lake Michigan College director of marketing. “Our models include direct credit courses, dual enrollment classes and two academies – the Early College Academy and the Professional Health Careers Academy.”

With direct credit courses, students are able to take college courses at their high school or technical center. Over 1,000 students were enrolled at 58 school districts in LMC direct credit programs for the 2013/2014 school year. 
Dual enrollment classes may be taken at any of the three Lake Michigan College campuses. Three hundred eighty-three students were enrolled in LMC’s dual enrollment programs at 35 school districts for the 2013-2014 year.
LMC partners with the Niles and Benton Harbor High Schools as well as Lakeland HealthCare system to deliver the Professional Health Careers Academy. The Academy exposes students to professional health care careers. Students are able to complete coursework in health care classes, as well as internship rotations in hospitals, dental offices and other facilities.

Giving students support, confidence
For Calumet High School Principal, George Twardzik, the charge of early college is clear.
“Giving students the support through the initial college courses provides students with the confidence to excel and follow their dreams,” he says.
The early college program at Calumet High School started in the fall of 2013 and partners with Gogebic Community College. One of the unique components of the program at Calumet is that the college instructors are also high school teachers. Staff members at Calumet apply to be adjunct instructors with Gogebic Community College and have a dual role much like the students.  
Another feature of the program at Calumet is that students are provided experiences and opportunities to become college ready from early elementary through their high school experience. 
“We believe every student should have the opportunity to pursue post-secondary education if that is their desire. Some students are working toward degrees in STEM areas, some in liberal arts, some in technology and trades, and some in general studies. With a population that is over 50 percent free and reduced lunch and geographically remote, we feel it is important to provide students with as many opportunities as possible to fulfill their dreams,” says Twardzik.
After three semesters of the early college program being in place, Calumet has provided 134 students with 2,125 college credits. Combined, participants have a combined 2.96 GPA in those college courses.
“This is the first year that students were eligible to be involved in the fifth year and we had 60 of the 102 members of the class of 2014 remain with us to continue their education,” Twardzik reports.
The future of schools success
Strong, successful early college programs are needed more than ever.
Though there are early colleges across the state, there’s still work to be done. Only 21 percent of entering U.S. high school students graduate on time, enter college immediately and earn a postsecondary degree within 150 percent of the standard program completion time, according to National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
As the evidence for their positive impact continues to accumulate, existing early colleges in Michigan must continue to prosper and develop new programs through the tireless efforts of dedicated communities and partners. Our students and the economy depend on it.  
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