Cornerstone's ACE Program Is Busy

August 31, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDSCornerstoneUniversity's Adult Continuing Education (ACE) department is expanding its presence on both sides of Michigan this fall.

Tomorrow, ACE will host the second open house of its new Lakeshore Campus in Holland at

400 State St

The program, which also has campuses in Kalamazoo, Detroit and Troy, is expecting 71 students this fall at its new location. With an anticipated enrollment of 484 students in West Michigan, ACE is projecting to have an ending enrollment this year of at least 570 students. With nearly 250 prospective students from the Lakeshore area in the Cornerstone database, enrollment could quickly expand.

"Now we will be able to have our Holland students stay right at home and attend classes," said Lisa Piatek, ACE director of enrollment. "A lot of the reason we haven't seen larger numbers is that students didn't have a place to go in their area and they didn't want to drive to Grand Rapids."

Piatek said that of the 71 new students, few of them would have attended classes at the Grand Rapids campus.

"Statistics show that students don't want to drive more than 20 minutes to class," she said. "And we find that to be especially true in Michigan weather."

"We're really expecting some great growth in the Holland area," said Rob Simpson, dean of professional and graduate studies. "All of our classes our taught from the Christian worldview perspective, which really fits well into the Lakeshore area where the Christian influence is so strong."

ACE offers accelerated undergraduate and master's degree programs primarily in business and education disciplines for working adults. In addition to general admissions requirements, ACE admits only students with at least two years of work experience.

ACE delivers its curriculum one six-week course at a time. When a "cohort," or class, has 16 to 22 students who are financially ready to begin the program, that unit proceeds throughout the program together one class at a time.

The result is a more easily managed and faster path to an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree.

On the east side of the state, ACE turned out to be exactly what the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) needed.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, signed into law by President Bush on Jan. 8, 2002, federally mandated a higher level of education required by teachers and paraprofessionals working in the classroom.

For a paraprofessional, that level increased to at least an associate's degree or 61 college credits.

"Years ago, these people were volunteer lunch aides or homeroom moms — mostly mothers — helping out at their children's school," said Flora Brooks, Cornerstone's regional director for Troy and metro Detroit. "When the paraprofessional positions opened up, the schools hired them because they had shown to be faithful, hard-working individuals. Back then all you needed was a willing worker. But No Child Left Behind changed all that."

The more than 500 DPS paraprofessionals were faced with getting their education by January 2006, or being replaced with individuals who had.

DPS director of specialized student services Deletha Motley had been searching for an educational solution that could meet the needs of the paraprofessionals in her department when she met Marianne Fingado, a Detroit ACE representative. What she needed was an accelerated program, something more accelerated than even ACE.

Fingado connected Motley with Brooks and Simpson, and Cornerstone began working with DPS to facilitate a program to provide an associate's degree that could be accomplished in 18 months.

Seventy-four students in five cohorts started ACE classes earlier this month, and as many as 75 more, mostly those with some college experience already, are expected to begin in September, representing more than a third of DPS' paraprofessional staff.

"We've actually compacted our accelerated program," Brooks said. "We've accelerated our accelerated program. And we've done that without compromising the integrity of the program. We just added a class here and there each week."

The classes will be conducted by Cornerstone faculty on site at DPS facilities, including Cooley High School North Annex, WashingtonCareerCenter and BeaubienMiddle School

The Detroit program is open to other school districts in the Detroit area, while a similar program is being developed for West Michigan schools.

There is a test-out option for the education requirement, but it requires many months of testing. Several of the DPS ACE students have already passed this test, however, but opted to still pursue the degree.

The DPS partnership is likely to be a permanent situation and will likely expand into the master's level in the near future, officials said.   

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