High school students get a college jumpstart
By Mye Griffin
One way to send your child to a good university is to sock away thousands of dollars each year. Is there a cheaper option? How about Middle College High School near Cooper-Young where students take college courses at Christian Brothers University (CBU) for free. Middle College High School (MCHS) shares a building with Fairview Middle School at the corner of East Parkway and Central, so students just walk cross the street to attend college classes at CBU.
MCHS moved to the Fairview site in 2009 after signing a partnership with CBU. Before that the school was located on the Southwest Tennessee Community College campus, and students earned college credit there. MCHS has been housed at Southwest since 1987, but the move to Midtown allows students to now earn credit from a 4-year institution. The primary focus of MCHS is to allow students from traditionally underrepresented groups to get an early start on college. The program, however, is open to students of all races and ethnicities.
MCHS is part of a Middle College National Consortium along with schools like Hollis F. Price Middle College High School, which is housed on the campus of Lemoyne Owen College. The consortium includes approximately forty schools throughout the US and is backed by some big names in education reform. Funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Ford Foundation.
Middle College High School principal, Michelle Armstrong, sees education as the most obvious way to improve our city. Armstrong says the equation is simple: more educated people leads to more employment and less crime. To prove her point Armstrong quotes statistics from a 2008 study done by the Alliance for Excellent Education.
“Eight-thousand students who were going to graduate in 2008 dropped out. If you cut that number by half, it would generate tax revenue of four million dollars. It would increase single year income earnings by 40 million dollars and generate 350 more jobs.”
This is why she says that national programs like Middle College work.
“The current juniors and seniors have to have 21 college credit hours to graduate from high school. Previously, students felt as if their senior year was a waste, because they were done with most of their high school requirements. So rather them wasting a year, they can access college credits, deterring the likelihood of them dropping out.”
Christian Brothers University president Dr. John Smarelli believes the partnership between the two schools was necessary for first generation college students. “For many first generation college students, there is a tremendous gap between their perception of the difficulty of earning a college degree at a prestigious university like CBU and the reality of attaining that goal. We envision this partnership with Middle College High School as a way to bridge this gap for students who are earning their high school diplomas just across the street from our University.”
Smarelli says that with this partnership, students develop improved study skills and enhanced critical thinking skills.
Janice Johnson was the 2007 valedictorian of MCHS. This May she plans to graduate from Christian Brothers University with a degree in Psychology.
“Those 22 credits will help me graduate earlier than expected, even though I sat out a semester while having my son,” she said. “My best friend also graduated earlier and obtained an engineering certificate before her high school graduation.”
Apparently, students at MCHS like going to their school. According to the Tennessee Department of Education’s school report card, MCHS has 93 percent attendance rate, a 100 percent graduation rate, and has 100 percent highly qualified teachers as of 2010.
For student’s to attend MCHS, they must apply and be interviewed. “We don’t look for the cream of the crop students, the top two percent; instead we look for ordinary student and give them extraordinary benefits,” said Armstrong. Students can earn up to 60 hours of transferable college credits. Some classes even count towards high school credits as well as college hours. Students, however, are still required to attain a sufficient score on the American College Test (ACT) for college admittance.
Mye Griffin is a reporter for MicroMemphis. You can access this story as well as more Cooper-Young news at MicroMemphis.com.