Brandan McBride is one of the GRCC success coaches who works closely with GRPS students. Courtesy GRCC
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Grand Rapids Community College saw a 31 percent increase this fall in the number of enrolled Grand Rapids Public Schools graduates.
This fall, 152 students who graduated from GRPS last year enrolled at GRCC, up from 116 in 2017.
There are 239 GRPS students in the dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment and middle college programs, up from 219 students a year ago and nearly double the 121 students in fall 2016.
GRCC's Early/Middle College program at Ottawa Hills High School extends grade school education to 13 years, allowing those enrolled to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an associate degree.
About 50 students are dual enrolled in high school and college courses this year, with tuition and fees for the GRCC courses covered by the K-12 district’s state aid.
There have been additional programs recently implemented to help GRPS students overcome potential obstacles and more easily make that transition, as well as a greater emphasis on those opportunities, according to Dave Selmon, GRCC associate dean of K-12 enrollment.
Selmon said many of the students benefiting from the partnership might come from backgrounds without academic support as strong as those in some families, so there has been a lot of work put in to level the playing field.
“For a lot of them, they’re breaking through as a first-generation college student,” he said. “Regardless of economic background, we try to make education affordable.”
Since GRCC President Bill Pink took his role in May 2017, Selmon said Pink has made a point to better connect GRCC with GRPS.
Pink said the education leaders have been working to create a seamless transition for students between GRPS and GRCC to better prepare them for successful futures and to strengthen the city overall.
“Being relevant and responsive to our community means working to ensure everyone has the opportunity to reach his or her potential,” he said. “We've made great progress, and there is more to do.”
Selmon said the dual enrollment programs allow students to explore career options early, establishing a foundation to help them decide the next path after high school.
GRCC and GRPS officials plan to build on collaborations with the business and philanthropic communities to help students overcome challenging circumstances and provide career exploration opportunities.
A Grand Rapids Junior College alumna, GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said she has worked to increase the level of collaboration with GRCC, as well as the overall number and quality of college programs for students.
Besides increasing GRPS graduation rates and dual enrollment during her tenure, she said she launched the district’s Challenge Scholars program and Early/Middle College programs, among others.
The Challenge Scholars program allows graduates of Union High, Harrison Park and Westwood Middle schools to attend college up to four years tuition-free.
At GRCC, success coaches work with the students to help them grow academically and explore opportunities for postsecondary education and careers.
Selmon was assigned to focus on GRPS students to ensure they are aware of available opportunities and assistance to help through the admissions process.
Weatherall Neal also secured a Michigan Promise Zone designation for GRPS, giving graduates of all public, private and charter schools within the district the opportunity to receive in-state college and trade school scholarships.
Another program, Summer Learning Academy Cruisin’ to College, allows students to earn college credit, improve college math skills, explore career opportunities, and visit area colleges and universities.
The first Raider Nation Day took place prior to this fall’s GRCC classes, connecting recently enrolled students from GRPS high schools and East Kentwood High School with campus resources.
GRCC also hosts the Grand Rapids Learning Center, a program for students up to age 20 to complete their high school education before attending college full time. About 90 students were enrolled in the program last year.