New Middle College Program to Provide Associate Degrees

East Kentwood High School students Lejla Suljevic, Ikhlas Hakeem work on an AP art project in teacher Le Tran’s class

A goal at the high school is for every student to receive college credit from at least one class before they graduate, said Evan Hordyk, the district’s executive director for secondary education. Well-established Advanced Placement (AP) opportunities, plus a middle college launching next fall, will make that possible.

East Kentwood students are already tallying up college credits by choosing from a slate of 21 AP classes. Soon they will be able to earn a free associate degree from Grand Rapids Community College by completing a fifth year of high school while dually enrolled as a college student.

It’s a way to give students a head start, in a setting where they feel comfortable. “We offer a very supportive family environment here, so taking a college class where they have those supports can help them be more successful,” Hordyk said.

From left, East Kentwood High School students Nisa Brooks and Adilene Garcia are earning credit in AP artAdding a Fifth Year = Associate’s Degree

The district will begin the Middle College with its first cohort of 10th graders next fall. Students will take college courses at East Kentwood along with high school courses, and then finish a fifth year on the GRCC campus. Successfully completing the program will earn them a general associate degree with credits transferable to most four-year colleges and universities. Other Middle College programs established through GRCC partnerships include Wyoming High School, Cedar Springs High School and Ottawa Hills High School. Kenowa Hills High School has a partnership with Davenport University.

“The most obvious and biggest benefit for students and parents is that the tuition is covered,” Hordyk said. Considering a student entering a four-year university right after senior year pays an average of more than $20,000 including room and board, the savings is potentially huge and places students a year ahead of schedule.

“We have an opportunity for students, whether they have an economic need or not to walk out of here with an associate’s degree,” said Principal Omar Bakri.

For several years, East Kentwood students have pursued dual-enrollment opportunities with GRCC, Kendall and Davenport, with more than 100 students participating last school year.

Dan Clark, dean of academic outreach for Grand Rapids Community College, said this partnership is their sixth middle college partnership. Programs are filling a need, especially for economically disadvantaged students and those who are the first in their families to attend college.

“It definitely allows and provides greater opportunity for access and success for particular students who, it was probably a foregone conclusion, weren’t going to go to college,” he said.

Programs have also led to increased collaboration between high schools and GRCC. “If institutions can partner in a way to benefit students,families and the community, it’s a win-win-win all around,” Clark said.

A Reputable AP Program

East Kentwood has also built one of the most comprehensive AP programs possible, with 21 classes including AP courses in science, English, math, economics government and art. The high school last year earned a silver medal from U.S. News and World Report for achievements including having 35 percent of students take AP tests and, of those, 73 percent pass them.

These courses give students college-level opportunities they otherwise might not have. They aren’t just for the highest achieving students, Hordyk said.

“One of the things we are quite proud of is that in 2017, 1,000 AP exams were taken. If you go back five years, just under 600 were taken, so we’ve almost doubled that number.” The success rate of a passing score, a 3, 4 or 5 on the AP exam, has remained high. “We’ve added a lot of kids and they are still very successful.”

East Kentwood is the most diverse school in the state (as ranked by Niche, a data organization) with students from more than 60 countries represented. Much of the increase in AP enrollment is from students of various ethnicities, “groups that haven’t traditionally been part of AP,” Hordyk said.

Graduate Justin Lai, a University of Michigan freshman pursuing a degree in computer science engineering, recently stopped in to visit his AP physics teacher Laura Sloma. He took nine AP classes before graduating last spring and said he was glad to have the head start. “As far as preparation goes, it was nice to have a harder workload to prepare me for college.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. Besides covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network, she writes freelance for the travel industry. Read Erin's full bio

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