Schools chief proposes incentive for early graduation

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Some education officials want to give incentives that follow early high school graduates to higher education institutions.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels proposed the idea, and Michael Flanagan, superintendent of public instruction for the Michigan Department of Education, said he wants the state to do something similar.
“I believe it’s about half of the kids that could complete high school within three years,” he said. “Students could get a head start on college, and some of that money could go with them.”
Flanagan said it would benefit students to be educated at their own pace, meaning some could graduate in three years by taking online or summer classes. Such a program could also enable students to use the aid that otherwise would have gone to their school district at a college or community college.
Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said he likes the concept.
“I don’t see any adverse issues with the community colleges,” he said.
Hansen said on average it costs about $7,500 per student for one year of high school. That would pay for up to three years of tuition at a community college.
But he said a more sensible approach would be to cut that amount in half and allow students to use it.
Hansen’s worry, however, is that a shift in funds would take away money that public schools need.
“Our goal would not to be to try to negatively impact the K-12 community,” said Hansen.
Deedee Starkley, director of early college at Lake Michigan College (LMC) in Benton Harbor, said such an intitiative would give better opportunities to students to seek education after high school.
“The drawback for some students is that they don’t have the financial resources” to pay for higher learning, said Starkley.
Flanagan said if Michigan were to adopt an incentive-based graduation policy, it could finance up to a year of a student’s college education.
He also said that students learn at different paces, and the policy would also encourage a merit-based rather than a time-based education system.
Jan Ellis of the communications office at the Education Department said legislation has not yet been proposed to put such a system in place, but high schools are currently doing other things to speed up graduation.
For example, high school students can participate in middle college and dual enrollment programs. Middle college are 5-year schools for high schoolers on college campuses that allow students to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. Dual enrollment allows students to take college classes while attending high school.
A high school pays for those students’ college credit and tuition.
Starkley said she favors legislation that would allow high school students to graduate at their own pace and channel the money to pay for their higher education.
“The more opportunities they have, the more apt a student is to continue on and pursue post-secondary education when they leave high school,” she said.
LMC allows 32 high schools to participate in its dual enrollment opportunities and has the largest early learning high school program in Michigan, she said.
LMC has 970 high school students earning college credits this semester.
Starkley said one or two dual enrollment students graduate from high school with an LMC associate’s degree in hand every couple of years.
From 2007-08 to 2008-09, dual enrollment participation rose by a little more than 1 percent statewide. About 7 percent of eligible students participated in dual enrollment last year, Ellis said.
Ellen Hasse, business manager of Berrien Springs Public Schools, said the district would favor such legislation, and almost half its senior class is currently enrolled at LMC.
The district plans to implement a system in which students could graduate early or late if they chose.
Another benefit in allowing high schoolers to graduate early, Starkley said, is that some students who are less successful in the classroom are more interested in college courses. A hands-on curriculum that may not be offered in high schools, like welding and mechanics, gives those who want different career pathways more push to pursue higher learning.
“They’re told they’re not college material,” she said. “Suddenly, that light bulb goes off and they’re acting like college students.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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