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She got an early jump on college in high school; now she’s on campus

Middle college programs growing here and statewide

Editor’s note: School News Network today welcomes Grand Rapids Community College to our ongoing coverage of education in our region. We will be following GRCC’s continuing contributions to student learning, career readiness and workforce development. These include its early college partnerships with school districts including Cedar Springs, Godwin Heights, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids Public Schools and Wyoming, and its Ready to Launch program open to all students in Kent ISD. And with working adults making up a large percentage of GRCC’s student body, we’ll explore those issues as well. Look under the Districts A-G section of our tool bar for stories on GRCC’s innovations and its ongoing relationships with our K-12 schools. Welcome aboard GRCC, and thank you for your support! 

Outside Grand Rapids Community College’s Sneden Hall before her morning “Principles of Economics” class, Lauren Kramer reflected on ways she’s benefiting from being both a Wyoming High School and GRCC student through the Wyoming Middle College.

They include a transcript already stacked with 30 GRCC credits; free tuition, books and materials; experience with college courses and expectations; and the discovery of a program she’s highly interested in: culinary arts.

The accomplished student, who started the Middle College as a Wyoming High School sophomore, said she’s making a smooth transition from high school classroom to college lecture hall. Though she’s now attending classes full-time at GRCC, Lauren is considered a fifth-year high school student. Still, she’s halfway through requirements for an associate degree.

She’s enjoying the bustle of city life as she spends her days on campus.

“It’s really great being downtown and the classes are fantastic,” she said.

‘The Best Thing Going’

Exploring downtown and the GRCC campus is part of the fun for Lauren Kramer

Wyoming Middle College, which started in 2012, was the first partnership for GRCC of its kind. It works like this: Students start in 10th grade taking college courses taught by GRCC faculty members at Wyoming High School. They take on a fifth year (also referred to as a 13th year in K-12) as a Wyoming student, but it’s spent entirely at GRCC. The cost is paid for through the per-pupil foundation allowance from the state.

Upon completion, students graduate with a high school diploma and a GRCC associate degree.

“It’s the best thing going,” said high school Principal Nate Robrahn, who this year expanded the cohort of sophomores starting Middle College from 50 to 65. About 150 students have graduated the program since it started.

“Students continue to be successful at the next level too,” Robrahn said. “A lot of those kids are going on to four-year universities, doing well and even graduating early from them.”

Students take one college class along with high school classes each semester sophomore year; two classes per semester junior year; and three per semester senior year. It’s a full schedule of college classes for the fifth year at GRCC.

Because of that experience, Lauren’s already used to the expectations, rigor and freedom of college. She knows what a syllabus is and how to follow it.

“(Wyoming Middle College) really helped with knowing the setup,” she said. “Here in college, most professors are very focused on the syllabus and they really stick to it, so if you need to know what’s due, when it’s due, the expectations, you just go through the syllabus.”

She plans to tackle 15 credits each semester, which means she will be a junior at the end of the school year, a full year ahead of many of her peers. Many of her general education classes are finished, and she has mostly electives left that align with her interests.

Programs Continue to Grow

GRCC has also established middle colleges at Cedar Springs and Ottawa Hills, and East Kentwood High School launched one this fall. Also through GRCC, Ottawa Area ISD offers a certification program at Careerline Tech Center and Kent ISD offers Launch U, where students earn an associate degree in mechanical design.

Dan Clark, GRCC dean of Academic Outreach, said about 500 students are involved in the middle college opportunities and interest is growing statewide.

“When we first started with Wyoming we were the 25th middle college in the state,” Clark said. “Now, in fall of 2018, there are over 150 middle college programs in the state.”

“We have more and more families that continue to say, ‘We want to do it,’” added Robrahn. Along with getting associate degrees before moving on to four-year institutions, he sees his students are earning certifications and discovering what’s possible on the GRCC campus.

“They have all kinds of options for kids, connections to culinary arts and to tech programs,” Robrahn said. “It’s not just an associate’s degree. You can get all those trainings and certifications. There are big jobs right now, $50,000-a-year jobs, and kids can walk out of (GRCC) and get them.”

Clark said GRCC offers extensive student support all the way through programs. Students regularly meet with college advisers and success coaches.

“The important thing we are hearing from these students is they have been able to learn and navigate the college process while they were in high school,” he said. “Now they have tools and maturity in understanding what college is all about.”

According to a study by National Center for Restructuring Education, School and Teaching, of 20 pilot schools with middle college programs followed over six years in Michigan, 997 students in 2016-2017 finished their 13th year with an average GPA of 2.94 and earned an average of 52 college credits. More than 11,000 Michigan students are in middle college programs.

Lauren Kramer, who is a fifth-year Wyoming High School student, will have 60 college credits at the end of this school year

Saving on Costs, Big Time

The most obvious benefit is cost savings, Clark said. At a minimum, students are saving the $114 per credit hour in 2018-2019 basic tuition rates at GRCC, plus the cost of books, fees and other materials.

Lauren said it would have cost at least $40,000, including room and board, had she enrolled directly into a four-year university and paid full tuition to tally up the number of credits she has earned from GRCC. All she has to pay for through the end of this school year is parking and food.

“We don’t have to pay for tuition, or books. I got a kit for my cake decorating class that would be $60, but with Middle College it’s completely taken care of. I get my own chef’s coat for my class and don’t have to pay for it.”

Icing on the Cake

Lauren excitedly talks about her “fantastic” Culinary Art and Design class, where she’s learning from renowned chefs and instructors to decorate and design pastries. She said enrolling in GRCC’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education might be her next step.

She said wouldn’t have pursued that idea had she enrolled directly into a four-year university, adding, “It is definitely helping me figure out what I want to do.”

Lauren was unsure if she wanted to join Wyoming Middle College when she was a 10th-grader. It meant giving up her freshman year living in a dorm, marching in a university band and having “the basic college experience.” She also didn’t have many classes in high school with friends who aren’t in the program and missed out on some great high school teachers.

But she’s found other ways to branch out and enjoy her passions, like traveling and performing all summer as a color guard member with the Legends Drum and Bugle Corps.

Now, when she thinks about savings, the path she’s on and what she’s learned, she puts it succinctly:

“This is the greatest program.”


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Early College is a Growing Success

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She 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, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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