SIDNEY — High school students in Montcalm County may soon have the opportunity to earn their associate degree — with a price tag no longer attached.
Montcalm Community College (MCC) is now engaging with all area school districts in Montcalm County in an official Early College program, which would allow students the chance to obtain their associate degree through a three-year program at the college.
“The early college at MCC is designed to provide one thing, improved assess to higher education opportunities for our youngsters today,” MCC President Robert Ferrentino said. “This is potentially a game changer for our communities.”
According to Ferrentino, the program has been structured to begin in the fall of the 2013-2014 school year.
Ferrentino and Montcalm Area Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Koenigsknecht have spent the last week approaching school boards and superintendents from the various school districts throughout Montcalm County, explaining the program in detail, and now await decisions from the respective boards on participation in the program.
Students would begin participating in the program in their junior year of high school. The student would commit to three years of study at MCC, while continuing to attend their respective high school.
After five total years of attending the high school, with three of those years combined with education as a college student at MCC, the student will walk away with their high school diploma from their respective high school and an associate degree from MCC.
“As a student is admitted into the early college program, they do become a college student,” Ferrentino said. “They are MCC students, through and through, at that point.”
Ferrentino said the first year of the program will be spent making sure that the students are prepared to enter into the college curriculum.
“We will use that first semester, if not the whole first year, getting students up to speed to enter a college curriculum,” he said. “The bottom line concept is, from 11th through 13th grades, students will attend MCC and concentrate on two main things: finishing all of their high school curriculum requirements … plus come out in the end with their associate degree.”
Ferrentino said the area of the associate degree is completely up to the choosing of the student.
“This opens up the entire catalog of MCC to these students, in terms of what degree program they may looking to pursue and achieve” he said.
According to Ferrentino, the program is designed to come at virtually no cost to the student as they pursue their associate degree.
“One of the best features of the program is this comes at no cost to the families or the student,” he said. “No costs related to tuition, fees or books.”
Ferrentino said the goal of the program is to create more opportunity for high school students throughout Montcalm County.
“The idea is to provide more opportunity for the students,” he said. “We are convinced that this is a way that we can do more to provide access to our students in Montcalm County. Imagine coming out with an associate degree with no debt, able to go work right away or transfer on to a university.”
Ferrentino said MCC is committed to starting the program in the fall of this year.
“We are committed to working with each of the school districts in Montcalm County to make sure this is a true partnership,” he said. “I can guarantee you that the support and services from the college will be in full force.”
As currently structured, the program will begin with 45 students spread throughout every district that chooses to participate in the program.
According to Ferrentino, the program would be founded from the state aid that each district receives per student involved in the program.
That state aid comes in the form of the foundation grant from the state government, estimated at $7,000, that comes to the school district for each student, which would be transferred to a separate education entity.
The MAISD will be hiring two highly qualified teachers to assist the students in their first year of the program in math and writing skills.
Each respective school district will now take time to analyze the program and decide if they will choose to participate in the program. The specific details of the program are still being negotiated as the districts continue to evaluate the program.