Dr. John Scholten, superintendent of the Public Schools of Petoskey; Dr. Cameron Brunet-Koch, president of North Central Michigan College; Mrs. Mandy Stewart, principal of Petoskey High School; and Mrs. Wendy Fought, director of student outreach and engagement at North Central Michigan College, join the SD 125 Early College class and present each student with a NCMC t-shirt to mark the beginning of their college journey. For more information about Early College and the Fifth Year program, contact Wendy Fought at 231-439-6349 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ncmich,edu/pdfs/early_college.pdf. (Courtesy photo/North Central Michigan College)
By Brian Boeckl,Special to Harbor Light Newspaper
North Central Michigan College and Petoskey Public Schools have launched an early college program with 25 current high school sophomores. After five years of coursework, each student graduates with a high school diploma as well as either an associate's degree or two years of college transfer credits.
Similar programs have become increasingly popular across the country, with studies of students in early college programs showing increased likelihood of attending and graduating from a four year institution, as well as increased likelihood of graduating from high school.
Criticism of early college programs usually centers around maturity disparities between older college students and high school students in the same classroom.
The program in Petoskey seeks to tackle this concern at the outset. The first semester in the program consists of a regular high school schedule, but every student must take a course titled "First Year Experience," the goal of which is to acclimate high school sophomores to the blend of high school and college.
Wendy Fought, the Director of Student Outreach and Engagement at NCMC, as well as the instructor of "First Year Experience," says the class objective is to incorporate intrusive support. "We're hoping to remove the question of 'how do I handle myself in college?'" Fought said.
"In college, you don't raise your hand to go to the restroom. You're an adult. I let them call me Wendy. We're trying to embed those cultural changes. You may be tested on material we don't cover. It's in the reading, and you're responsible for it."
Students are also not allowed to retake tests, as they may be in high school courses.
Fought explained that students become totally immersed in the program, but stressed that the purpose of the program is not to remove high school students from their school and their classmates.
"We want them to be high school students: go to prom, graduate with your classmates, but be college students at the same time," Fought said.
Fought argues that the benefits of the program are hard to dispute. "The advantage of early college is free tuition, free books for two years of a four year degree, and they're accelerated by a year. They will be going to college as juniors, with the confidence of how to be a college student."
The early college program is paid for through Petoskey's per-pupil funding, the same arrangement used by many neighboring districts through their dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment programs. In exchange, the college offers in-kind support by not charging for advising or restricting use of college facilities and resources.
Harbor Springs Public Schools currently offer a concurrent enrollment program, where instructors from the college teach courses for college credit at the high school. Among those currently offered are speech, sociology and computers. Approximately 119 Harbor Springs high schoolers are participating this year.
When asked about the future of the early college program in Petoskey, and whether it could grow to include neighboring districts, Fought explained that the goal is to have a new cohort every year in Petoskey, while tailoring further growth to the needs of different districts.
"Our goal is to meet the needs of the community. If those are met with dual enrollment, then a district might not need the program. My goal is for everyone who wants this program to have access."