SIDNEY — With one semester in the books, the Montcalm Community College (MCC) “Early College” program is up and running, and the students involved are not looking back.
The new program, implemented in the fall of 2013, is currently guiding 18 high school students on a non-traditional path to becoming community college students at virtually no cost to them.
According to MCC President Robert Ferrentino, the program is off to a thunderous start.
“The first semester out of the box? — successful,” Ferrentino said. “It’s not your typical classroom of high school kids, they are very on task, they want to be here.”
Ferrentino updated members of the MCC Board of Trustees Tuesday evening on the status of the program, which began with 20 students from four area school districts that include Greenville, Central Montcalm, Montabella and Vestaburg.
After the first semester, results were generally favorable.
Two students dropped from the program within the first few days, while the other 18 completed the first semester successfully.
Of those 18 students, four have progressed to the point where they are now taking full college coursework, three are still taking high-school level classes, while the remaining 11 are mixed between the two.
All of them made it through the fall semester,” Ferrentino said. “The three of them that are still in all high school work weren’t quite ready to move on, but that’s the program, they have a full year if they need it.”
According to MCC Vice President for Student and Academic Affairs Robert Spohr, this group of students has been the most engaging than any freshman class he has ever encountered.
“I’ve done hundreds of orientations, and this group, these high school students, they have been much more engaged,” he said. “They ask more questions than any group I’ve had previously.”
The program is designed for a high school student to complete five total years of schooling.
Students begin participating in the program in their junior year of high school. After two years at the high school level the student then commits to three years of study at MCC.
After five total years of joint-enrollment between the high school and MCC, the student will walk away with their high school diploma from their respective high school and an associate degree from MCC.
According to Ferrentino, the program is designed to come at virtually no cost to the student as they pursue their associate degree.
The program is funded by the state aid that each school 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.
That high cost per student is the main reason districts such as Carson City-Crystal, Tri County and Lakeview did not decide to enroll in the program in its inaugural year.
That’s something Ferrentino is hoping will change entering the 2014-2015 school year.
On Monday, Shannon Tripp of the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District, who works as an advisor for the early college students, presented the Carson City-Crystal School Board with an update on the program.
Now that the program is up and running and the first semester was successful, I think we’re gong to see some more movement in some areas,” Tripp said. “It’s still a money challenge for schools, and I have no way to fix that or get around that for you, except to say that … you would have a representative there, your superintendent. Once this program begins producing a surplus, money would come back to the schools.”
Tripp estimated it would be about five years before any type of surplus would be seen.
“MCC has opened everything they offer to the early college students, from occupational certificates to associates degrees,” she said. “Every option that is open to regular MCC students is open to early college students.”
MCC had originally hoped for approximately 45 students from seven school districts, but Tripp said the starting number of 20 from four districts was a good starting point for the program.
The interest for the program was mixed per district.
In Greenville, only eight of 15 allotments were filled, while in Vestaburg, there were nine applicants for three allotments.
The amount per district is based on each district’s student population.
“I want students that are committed and families that are committed, so that they are successful throughout the entire program.”
Ferrentino said he is confident the program will remain successful moving forward.
“We couldn’t be more happy with what’s going on, in terms of that initial start,” he said. “The kids are having fun, and I shouldn’t say kids, because now they are college students.”