It doesn’t look much like a college classroom with nearly every inch of the walls covered with photos, posters plastered on the ceiling and students eating cupcakes and broccoli.
But college course work is exactly what Jacqueline Decker’s English students are doing. Every grade they earn and every skill they learn goes on their record at Ferris State University through its early college program with Rockford High School.
On this day they’re learning how to write an advanced-placement essay exam. Decker’s students jot down notes as she drills them on how to organize their time in reading and analyzing a passage.
“You must grab the reader’s attention,” Decker says. “Pull him or her in by the jugular and make that person read what you have to say. You want the reader to go ‘wow.’ “
As for the cupcakes and broccoli? That was a writing exercise to compare and contrast two kinds of food. One girl says a Diet Coke and cupcake are both part of her daily diet, “though that’s bad to admit.”
It’s all in a day’s work at The Woodbridge Ferris Early College Program. Officials say it is Michigan’s first such partnership between a state four-year university and a high school, allowing students to earn college credit while taking college courses from their high school teachers.
Demanding Studies, Tangible Rewards
The Rockford-FSU program is called “concurrent enrollment,” which is a different creature from other models such as dual enrollment. Among its distinctive features:
- Whereas dual enrollment students travel to college campuses, concurrent enrollment students take college courses at their high schools.
- While other programs offer instruction from professors, concurrent enrollment uses high school teachers approved by the university.
- Students earn high school and university credit in the same course.
- Students apply to the university like any other prospective student, and have the same privileges, including a student ID, access to campus facilities and student discounts.
Students in Rockford’s program may choose FSU upon graduation or transfer their credits to another college or university.
The chance to earn free university credit, plus access to the FSU library, campus activities and store discounts looked like a great deal to Katie Elwell, a junior in Decker’s English class.
“That’s a whole class you don’t have to pay for,” Katie says. “Why not take college classes in high school and save money?” The work also is more challenging than a typical high school course, she adds: “There’s a lot more you’re expected to know.”
That’s a good thing, says her junior classmate Shelby Oleksy. ”I’m learning a lot and pushing myself,” Shelby says. “I kind of get bored when things are easy.”
There’s no “easy” in her class, says Decker, a 25-year veteran. “There are words in here I haven’t even heard of,” Decker says. “This class pushes them very hard.”
Prepping Students for College
Decker’s class is one of five offered this fall through the early college program, along with literature and calculus/geometry courses. About 100 students are enrolled. Rockford covers their tuition at one-third the usual cost.
The program is the result of a joint commitment by Rockford Superintendent Michael Shibler and FSU President David Eisler to help students prepare for college and reduce their families’ financial burdens.
“The FSU concurrent enrollment pilot program prepares students for the rigor of college prior to graduation with the advantage of taking the college courses at Rockford High School,” Shibler says. “It also provides families the opportunity to reduce their post-secondary tuition costs by earning credit while in high school at no charge to the student or family.”
Eisler says the program reflects the aim of FSU founder Woodbridge Ferris to create educational opportunities for students, by giving students “a strong head start on college without incurring any debt.”
“Maybe the biggest challenge we face in higher education today is the growing amount of student debt,” Eisler said when the program was announced. “This is a way a student can really get a strong start on that.”
The quality and content of Rockford-taught courses is “absolutely identical” to their campus counterparts, Eisler stresses. Teachers’ credentials and lesson plans are approved by FSU department heads and administrators.
Student Shelby Oleksy says she likes getting a jump on college by learning about the fine points of critiquing a passage by Virginia Woolf. She admits the perks of a student ID aren’t bad either.
“There are so many places where it says ‘With college ID, five dollars less,’ “she says. “How nice is that?”