While Washtenaw Community College poses an affordable option for recently graduated high school students, many of them don’t even know it exists, according to Linda Blakey, vice president of Student and Academic Services.
“During our Strategic Planning Initiative listening sessions, we heard loud and clear that we have zero presence at these high schools,” she said. “One principal said that WCC was almost non-existent to their students, and that the military had more of a presence. That’s just crazy.”
Yet hope abounds for Washtenaw in these proverbial dead zones; the college has reached a partnership agreement with five Washtenaw County high schools to begin offering courses at their respective campuses.
Branching off of WCC’s strategic planning process, Chelsea, Manchester, Milan and Whitmore Lake high schools will become dual enrollment hubs for junior and senior students. In addition, Dexter High School will become an off-campus site for college course instruction.
Courses at the new sites are slated to begin shortly after Labor Day, and will be held immediately after the schools’ regularly scheduled classes dismiss. Each of the courses, taught in 14-week sessions, will also be open to new and existing Washtenaw students.
The offerings will all be basic, general education requirements for transfer and all other associated MACROA classes, Blakey said.
“We agreed that the best way to start was to offer classes in those general areas,” she said. “With those types of classes, it doesn’t matter what you take because all of the four-year schools will accept those credits.”
Blakey and other officials were in negotiations with Lincoln High School, but failed to meet the deadline of the school’s early scheduling process.
“We jumped on really at the last minute for some of these schools,” Blakey said. “We reached out to them in March, and by then, we were already behind.”
According to Blakey, most high schools begin planning their academic schedules a year in advance, dual enrollments with colleges included, limiting late additions in the types of courses they can offer.
“Some of the schools are already planning or have planned for winter of 2014. So in that case, even we have to start thinking longer ahead of that schedule,” she said.
College officials hope the response to these courses will help avoid future visibility issues in the community. With new legislation allowing freshmen and sophomore students to dual enroll – effective this month – administrators are looking to increase their dual enrollment numbers through these schools.
But the decision to begin off-campus dual enrollment also came from administration’s fear that too many students seeking dual enrollment suffered transportation issues.
With this partnership, WCC is now that much more accessible, Blakey said.
College President Rose Bellanca, whose planning initiatives motivated the agreement, couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of the burgeoning partnership.
“I am thrilled that we’ll be directly involved in the education of future students,” Bellanca said. “This is the future of education: being able to have students in high schools graduating with certificates or college degrees. (Washtenaw Technical Middle College) is a perfect model for that. But I was surprised when the high schools were suddenly very open and welcoming to the idea of partnering with us.”
The college’s newest concern isn’t how many students they can reach, but how these offerings will compete with afterschool clubs and sports programs.
However, Principal Kevin Mowrer of Manchester High School doesn’t feel that will be an issue for his students.
“I think that there will be initially a lot of excitement from our students,” he said. “It allows us to not only have more course offerings but to allow our students to gain affordable college credit.”
And guaranteeing that credit was what made the agreement so viable, Mowrer said.
“When you have students in Advanced Placement courses, the course assignments and the tests are near $70-$80 each,” he said. “When students go into those kinds of courses, there’s a fair amount of risk involved when taking them. You do the work necessary in these college courses, and you are guaranteed that college credit.”
With such promise already stemming from the partnership, Mowrer wonders why WCC had any problems with visibility in the first place.
“It’s a place to get easy courses out of the way at a much lower cost,” he said. “There are always going to be a population of students who will attend Washtenaw for those basic, practical reasons.”