Higher Education and Human Resources

WMU launches Collegiate Pathways program

Pilot partnership with Forest Hills will allow high school students to earn minor in Mandarin Chinese.

April 7, 2017
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Western Michigan University is tweaking the concept of dual enrollment through a new program called Collegiate Pathways.

The university announced last month that it has signed a partnership agreement with Forest Hills Public Schools to allow the district’s high school students to take WMU faculty-taught classes in Mandarin Chinese at Forest Hills Northern High School beginning this fall.

Students who complete four years in the program will earn a 23-credit Chinese language minor offered by WMU while still enrolled in high school.

Ed Martini, WMU’s associate dean of extended university programs, said the partnership with FHN will provide a test case for what he hopes will be a repeatable program in additional districts around the state for foreign language learning and other courses.

While Martini said Collegiate Pathways will not generate major revenue for the university, Western aims to use the program to boost its student enrollment and offer a service to the community.

“We’re trying to expand the opportunities for high school students to start thinking about college education and get on a pathway to start it,” he said.

“It’s not quite a loss leader, but it’s not a significant source of revenue (for Western). The big payoff is for enrollment matriculation.”

Margaret Fellinger, assistant superintendent of instruction at Forest Hills Public Schools, said the program is the next step in the district’s existing K-8 Chinese immersion program that began in 2008.

“We have had a (K-8) Chinese immersion program for students for several years, and our first cohort is in eighth grade,” she said. “It was really important to students and families we continue the program at the high school level.”

She said the district did not have the resources to continue Mandarin courses at an advanced level, so the leadership called Western for help.

“We have been in partnership over the years with Western Michigan and their Confucius Institute, and they have supplied us with teacher interns,” she said. “So, they were the first ones we turned to to say, ‘How can you help us deliver a high-quality program for our Chinese Mandarin immersion students?’”

Fellinger said the K-8 Mandarin immersion program currently has about 350 students district wide and about 40 of those are in eighth grade. She said the school expects most of the eighth-graders will want to continue their studies in high school.

She said students who were not in the K-8 immersion program might want to study Chinese, too.

“It is possible we may have other students in our district who are native speaking or have traveled or lived abroad and this is of interest to them,” she said. “We have a very diverse population.”

Martini said WMU anticipates not all of the students will stick around to earn the full minor.

“Challenges we may run into is that students will have other extracurricular courses they are interested in, like art or music, and it may be too much for them to balance, so there may be some attrition,” he said.

“But, we’d be thrilled if they stayed.”

The program is simple, Martini said.

“We’re going to deliver the classes at Forest Hills Northern High School,” he said. “Students will come in for an hour a day and one of our faculty members from the Chinese program will be embedded in the space to teach them.

“They will get magically transformed for that one hour from high school students to college students.”

Martini said two instructors, yet to be selected but possibly a Chinese-English dual speaker under contract or someone from the Confucius Institute, will teach two classes per academic year.

The classes will focus on Mandarin only and not any of the other Chinese languages or dialects.

“We don’t do Cantonese, although some instructors through the Confucius Institute have knowledge of it,” Martini said. “Mandarin is the more in-demand language from the market perspective and in business.

“The classes are taught in 100 percent Mandarin and the cultural classes are blended English/Mandarin but still overwhelmingly in Chinese.”

Martini said all credits earned and the full minor will transfer to Western, but it is likely that other institutions would not accept a minor from Western.

“The credits might come in (to other universities) as elective credits that would count toward graduation but not as specific degree requirements at that institution,” he said.

Fellinger said the program and textbooks will be free for Forest Hills students.

“We’re able to use our foundation allowance to pay for dual enrollment courses, and so that will be provided for our students,” she said.

Martini said WMU started with Chinese because Forest Hills already had the demand and the pipeline in place. The structure and content in other districts will vary.

“These are all in the planning stage, but we’ve had a lot of requests connected to our aviation programs,” he said. “We’re working on … engineering … and then connected to our new initiative in Florida, we’re looking for opportunities in aviation, environmental studies and allied health.”

Martini said Western is grateful to Forest Hills for providing the impetus for this program.

“It’s been a great way for us to drive institutional change at Western,” he said. “Potentially, it will give us a great new model and a template for other programs down the road.”

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