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New Program to Make College Possible for More Dearborn Students

If approved by the state, the district's new Collegiate Academy plan would allow Dearborn students to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate's degree in their 13th year.

In the case of Dearborn students and parents dreading the high cost of education, 13 could be a lucky number.

Dearborn Public Schools is seeking approval from the Michigan Department of Education to implement the Henry Ford Collegiate Academy, which would allow students at all three high schools to attend college classes at during their 11th and 12th grade years–and a 13th year spent solely at the college.

“We’re seeking approval for 200 students to take part in the program,” said Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Gail Shenkman. “We don’t know when we’re going to have an approval on the plan, but we hope it’s soon.”

The hope of the district is that students who take part in the program will get a jump-start in college and realize savings for the first two years of earning a bachelor's degree.

"The plan is not designed for students to seek work after they complete the required courses–it’s meant as a pathway to a four-year university," said Kim Schopmeyer, the associate dean of HFCC.

Moving Students Forward

Dearborn Public Schools is considered to be a K-14 district including HFCC, and already has the Henry Ford Early College in place, allowing high school students to study beyond their usual classrooms. The Collegiate Academy, however, differs from the Early College plan in that the latter is designed for students seeking careers in the health care field; the former is for students entering any field of study.

The courses in the Collegiate Academy will focus on the basics of math, English and science, and will transfer to four-year universities under the state's Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers program, which guarantees students who successfully complete community college courses will not have to repeat them at a university.

Students will seek either a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts or science, and will begin taking classes at the college in the 11th grade. They will return to the high school for some courses to keep them connected to their peers, Shenkman said.

“They will still participate in high school activities," she added, "like the prom or the senior party."

The 13th year–after their high school graduation–will be spent entirely at the college.

Transportation will be provided for students, and there will be advisers on hand to help students navigate the process of attending high school and college.

And most important: It's all free.

Once implemented, Shenkman said she hopes to identify students that might benefit from the program while they’re still in middle school.

“This might not be something that’s for the top performers; the ones that will be getting a full-ride scholarship,” she said. “But it’s for high achievers.”

Trustee Aimee Blackburn said she liked the potential for this program.

“There is a high middle that is often forgotten about,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for them to be able to get ahead. They might be students that have to pay for it themselves that would spend four years getting an associate degree because they had to work full-time.”

The program is free of charge to students because foundation grant money–the allotment the district receives to educate a student–will go to the college to cover the costs.

Sister Schools

Dearborn Schools and HFCC share a common board of trustees and have a symbiotic relationship that allows agreements like the Early College and the Collegiate Academy plan to move forward.

But it remains to be seen whether universities–especially elite ones–will view the program in a positive light when it comes to admissions. Officials indicated they are not worried about that, and they have already had a discussion with representatives from Wayne State University, who have indicated interest in transfer students from the system.

Right now, the focus is on implementing the program, and assessing what the interest among students is, said Superintendent Brian Whiston, who said the schools have no interest in turning away anyone who qualifies for the program.

“If we have more students interested in the program than 200, we'll petition the state for more,” he said.

Vicky Williams April 29, 2011 at 12:44 PM
Our education system is far behind other countries and needs to be fixed. Wish this idea had been implemented years ago. High school grads have a hard time transitioning to a college - maybe that's why so many of them never attend or drop out after a few months. I believe an education system should be a seamless ongoing process and a college education should be a requirement for graduation, not high school.

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