Improving Access to Education: Concurrent and Early College Programs for Underserved PopulationsKelly Smith | President, Baker College of Cadillac
I am a first-generation college graduate. I was raised on a family farm and in my family it was just assumed you would go on to college. We didn’t discuss it but all four of my siblings and I knew that education was the key to a more economically solvent life. Since my parents had not navigated this world, they did not know how financial aid, applications, college costs, or any other postsecondary topics worked.
As a result of this background, I have always put a lot of energy in working to help students—especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds—see education as a key to a successful future. Following my K-12 career, coming to Baker allowed me to continue those efforts with students of high need and helping underserved populations find opportunities to enter the postsecondary world. We participated in events like College Goal Sunday and College Application Week, which help these students navigate some of the obstacles that often keep them out of the postsecondary market.
This passion has naturally flowed into the college’s Running Start program, which encompasses all the high school opportunities under one umbrella. The Running Start program includes articulation, concurrent enrollment, dual enrollment, and early/middle college.
Our current early college programs are targeted to first-generation students. However, we do not turn away others who qualify for, and are committed to, the program. Students have to declare their desire to be an early college student at the start of their junior year. They then extend their high school experience to a 13th year. The state continues to pay the per-pupil foundational allowance in the 13th year, which covers their college coursework. This extra year in high school is usually spent only at the college campus.
I am excited that, this June, Baker College of Cadillac and its partner the Wexford/Missaukee Career Tech Center will be graduating its first 13th-year cohort. There are 12 students who will participate in the Cadillac campus’ graduation ceremony, where they will receive their high school diploma from their district’s superintendent and also receive their associate’s degree from Baker College. As a result of their participation in the program, these students obtained their associate’s degrees with little or no cost to them. Several of these students and their families thought they would not be able to attend college at all, let alone earn a degree at almost no cost!
I, myself, continue to have student debt. I have three daughters who all have college debt. College graduates are drowning in student debt and are not able to afford the traditional things we think of once they earn their degree. First, students need to obtain a degree that leads to a decent job and, even then, their college debt makes it difficult for them to buy a car, insurance, or even afford their own living expenses. Baker College is committed to finding ways to deliver a quality education at an affordable price. We are committed to find ways for students to obtain degrees and career goals that lead to jobs through the Running Start at an affordable price. We use as much articulation and concurrent enrollment for high school students and the early/middle college as possible. This saves on the cost as articulated credit is free and concurrent enrollment when taught by vetted high school teachers is given at a substantial cost break. Concurrent enrollment is paid by the school district.
I believe that all postsecondary institutions need to find ways to make college possible for those who are up for the challenge by delivering career-ready degrees at an affordable price. We are the largest independent college in Michigan and our mission is to prepare our students for meaningful employment opportunities. We use our 97-percent employment rate as a recruiting tool because we believe that students should get a quality education that leads to a job at the end.
We have 11 guiding principles, which include the ability to adapt and be flexible, community orientation and right to try. We believe that everyone should have the right to make themselves economically better through education. It is this ideal that we have incorporated into our Running Start initiative.