Cornerstone, Mel Trotter to offer discounted degrees


A discounted degree program meant to increase accessibility will be available for Mel Trotter Ministries’ clients and staff starting this academic year.

A partnership between the nonprofit and Cornerstone University’s Professional and Graduate Studies division allows Mel Trotter program graduates and staff to pursue an associate degree in human services on-site at Mel Trotter.

The discount is 10 percent off, according to Peter Osborn, vice president of adult learning for the PGS division. At $342 per credit hour, the 60-credit class would cost $20,520 per student.

The clients of Mel Trotter, which serves those dealing with homelessness and hunger, will each receive a $1,000 scholarship to help alleviate costs, Osborn said.

An anonymous foundation awarded a $25,000 grant to the program, Osborn said, allowing scholarships for 25 students.

Osborn said he would like to start a fund to offer student scholarships beyond what can be offered with the grant.

Students also will have access to Pell grant funds and federal loans.

Osborn said about six students so far have expressed interest, which means the first cohort, preferably containing 12 students, will either be this fall or the following semester.

Cohorts will last 18 months, with students taking one accelerated class at a time that meets for four hours once per week.

Osborn said Cornerstone wanted to help the Mel Trotter clients who have experienced unfortunate circumstances and overcome obstacles, keeping them from being the best they can be.

“We know many of our guests first experienced homelessness as children,” said Dennis Van Kampen, Mel Trotter president and CEO. “If we can help break the cycle, with education as one tool, we might be able to not only impact the person experiencing homelessness now but also make sure that future generations never experience homelessness.”

Even if graduates of the degree program apply for jobs that do not require a degree, Osborn said having the degree will show employers the students were able to commit to a difficult task and see it through.

In conversations with Spectrum Health, he said the company shared it is more likely to hire students with degrees like this.

Mike Ward, director of enrollment operations and community development at PGS, coordinated with Van Kampen to bring this vision to fruition.

Mel Trotter wanted to offer a program that meets on-site, with curriculum tailored to be Mel Trotter-friendly, “more conscious of poverty and more conscious of family dynamics,” Ward said.

“It means the possibility for a guest who has experienced homelessness and, as such, felt like there was not any way he or she would ever be able to go to college,” Van Kampen said. “It’s the possibility to see hope — hope for an education, for a different and better life.”

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