Ask a typical high school sophomore if he or she would be willing to put in a fifth year of high school and the answer is pretty predictable — “no.” Or perhaps something more forceful.
Ask her parents if they’d like to find a way for her to earn a two-year associate’s degree without paying two years of even community college tuition and the answer will likely be some variation on “tell me more.”
That could be the family debate here if Traverse City Area Public Schools adopts an early college program that would allow students to complete enough credits to simultaneously earn an associate’s degree by the time they finish high school.
School board President Kelly Hall said it’s possible the district would put interested students on a five-year high school plan. That would make it possible for them to walk across the stage on high school graduation day with both a diploma and two-year degree in hand.
The program could also allow high school seniors and juniors to enroll in college courses. The district, in conjunction with Northwestern Michigan College, has for years offered advanced placement classes that can earn college credits at no cost to the student. Some TCAPS students have been able to accumulate enough credits to springboard them to a college degree.
But a formal program aimed directly at allowing students to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school is a big step. The cost of tuition is climbing and students are leaving college with record amounts of debt, surpassing even credit card debt.
Getting a two-year degree before graduating high school is a big leg up on the road to a four-year degree program or landing a good-paying job right out of school. That’s a lot of payback for an additional year of high school.
The program certainly won’t be for everyone. While asking 14- or 15-year-old freshmen to commit to five years of high school would be a stretch, getting high school juniors to sign on for an extra year could be much easier. Flexibility for late arrivals could be the key to its success.
This is all about adding value to tax dollars and looking ahead to a time when online programs and innovations like this one will change how public education is delivered. More and more, students will learn at their own pace and in their own way; this is an early example that could pay big dividends right now.