Really? Earn a tuition-free college degree while in high school?
This tagline has been used in advertisements for the new Early College at Montcalm Community College that have been sent around the county, but what is an early college? This unique educational program is designed to fully immerse high school-aged students into the post-secondary learning environment. The institution expects high achievement and realistic planning from all students. It is designed so that students cannot finish the program without completing the coursework of their Educational Development Plan.
Successful students must be willing to take responsibility for their own effort, education and behavior. There are no bells, hall monitors or daily announcements to keep them on track. Students must meet and take responsibility for their own deadlines and requirements. They are expected to learn how to make smart, sound choices that benefit their learning and success in life. Students are also expected to learn how to monitor their own educational progress, advocate for their own learning needs and successfully negotiate their way through the post-secondary environment.
This may sound like quite a daunting task to some students, but along with the newfound responsibility come privileges. Students are given all the same freedoms as their college counterparts from the beginning of the program. They will receive a college ID which will give them access to the gym, pool, weight room, and climbing wall. They will also have access to free tutoring and the computer lab.
As wonderful as that sounds, we don’t turn them loose with no supervision. Each student will be assigned a mentor who will become the main contact for the student, parents, and college faculty. The mentor will remain with the student through the entire three-year program. If a student is struggling with any aspect of the program, college classes, or a personal matter, the mentor will be there to guide them through.
Students apply in their sophomore year of high school. There are no requirements to apply. Applications are available to print at www.montcalm.edu/earlycollege or by calling (616) 225-5706. Once the application period has ended, there is a lottery/drawing to fill the available slots. Parents and students will be contacted via letter to let them know if they made it into the program. Students will then need to take four assessments. These assessments have no bearing on the students’ entry into the program. They are used solely for the purpose of determining students’ ability levels. Students then start classes in the fall on the campus of Montcalm Community College. At the beginning of their junior year, they attend high school classes with high school teachers all day on the college campus, and once the early college staff feels the student is ready, they are able to start taking college classes.
The benefits to the students are obvious; they receive an associate’s degree a year earlier than they would have through the traditional route. Also, they can progress at their own speed. They are not lock-stepped with their classmates like they are in a traditional high school. There are also major benefits to the parents.
Early College at Montcalm Community College pays the student’s tuition, pays for books and pays all fees associated with the college classes. That is a savings of $25,000 to $50,000 compared to a four-year university.
Many parents have given other reasons why they believe this will be an opportunity for their student that they can’t pass up. “My child is ready to handle the work, and he wants to get a degree,” was the comment from one parent. Another parent says, “He is looking to be challenged more and is looking to advance himself…”
If you are the parent of a student who is interested in Early College at MCC, there are opportunities to learn more about the program and ask questions. The first parent information night will be 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Montabella High School. Additional sessions will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Vestaburg High School, 6:30 p.m. May 21 at Greenville High School and 6:30 p.m. May 23 at Central Montcalm High School.