One extra year nets big reward: free college degree

Jasmine Mangus, Sarah Galloway, Brooke Weeks and Larica Brown say that being in Middle College together has made them ‘best friends forever’

Senior Sarah Galloway never doubted that she wanted to enroll in the Middle College option offered at her high school, since she saw the benefits firsthand with her brother. “It has been an exceptional opportunity,” she said.

Kevin Galloway was among the 20 students in the first group (called a cohort) graduating last spring with both his high school diploma and a Grand Rapids Community College degree.

“I am 100 percent happy that I did it,” said Kevin, despite graduating a year after his classmates.

This program offers students an opportunity to earn their associate degree along with their high school diploma in five years.

“A lot of my friends that were in my class at Cedar Springs are paying rent and tuition at college. I was able to get all of my general education credits for free. It was a great stepping stone to my education,” he said. Kevin is about a year away from becoming a certified utility technician in what he called the “Lineman Program.”

Middle College enrollment has steadily increased since the program started in 2015, according to Jeremy Verwys, vice principal at CSHS. “We had a huge number of applicants, and the fifth cohort has three classes with 78 (total) enrolled,” he said.

“It is an amazing opportunity for students. They can earn an associate’s degree in half the time — for free.”

Snapshot from Cohort Three (fourth-year seniors who will receive diplomas in spring 2020)

Larica Brown

Larica Brown Her ultimate goal is to be a surgeon and she is looking to start that path with certification as a CNA. The opportunity to earn a college degree while still in high school is exciting, but a bit overwhelming. She came to the area from Jamaica as a fifth-grader with her family and started in Cedar Springs just a couple years ago. “A huge part of this for me is just going to college. I am the first one in many generations to even graduate (from high school). Having an opportunity to go to college has given me extra motivation.”

Jasmine Mangus

Jasmine Mangus “A lot of people turn down the program, but I see that as a missed opportunity. Being accepted was one of the happiest days of my life,” said Jasmine, who plans to pursue a career in actuarial science. She said building relationships with others has been one of the best parts of the program. “We all bring different strengths and work together to get it done.” For example, she was the group’s tutor during the college physics class.

Brooke Weeks

Brooke Weeks Brooke is planning a career in medicine as a OB-GYN. “I really got a jump start and saved lots of money on my first college credits,” she said. She has focused her associate’s degree in nursing. “I see it as a big extra achievement,” she said. “I think it has taken all of us out of our comfort zones and made us do things we didn’t think we could do.”

Sarah Galloway

Sarah Galloway “Academically we come out way ahead,” said Sarah, who plans to pursue a teaching career in special education. “This has taught me time management. I know that when I transfer to a large college, I will be more prepared than many of my other friends were.” The friendships developed are another benefit. “I don’t know if all the cohorts are like this, but it has turned out to be something very special,” she said.

Fourth-year Seniors

Middle College students in their fourth year are considered seniors, and participate in all regular school activities including senior parties, prom and even the spring graduation. “I think other than being considered for valedictorian or salutatorian, since we technically are 2020 graduates, everything else is the same,” said Brooke.

“I think we all come from different social groups and maybe at first felt a little isolated,” said Jasmine, “but in the end we have made some good friendships.”  Larica agreed. “We were kind of forced to connect with each other, but now we are glad we did.”

Combining college courses with high school isn’t easy, the students say. “It is hard work, but something really good comes out of it,” said Jasmine.

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

2 COMMENTS

  1. I really enjoyed the article; however, I have one minor issue with the piece. I was one of the students interviewed and my last name was spelled incorrectly. It’s a common mistake, my real name is actually Jasmine Mangus.

    • Sorry about that Jasmine — all fixed now. And congrats on your hard work as you earn both your diploma and degree.

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