Higher Education and Human Resources

GRCC, Kent ISD cast college program

Talent 2025 prompts plan to provide tuition-free certificate or associate’s degree to high school students.

May 26, 2017
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Amid growing concerns over skilled worker shortages, a group of partners will offer another talent pipeline for West Michigan employers.

Grand Rapids Community College, Kent Intermediate School District and area manufacturers have created a program called Launch U that will allow high school students to earn college credit or a degree at Kent ISD and GRCC.

Students in the four-year program — 10th through 12th grades, plus a 13th year for those who want an associate’s degree — will graduate with a high school diploma and a GRCC Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences degree in either mechanical design, tooling and manufacturing technology, or industrial technology.

Those who opt out of the 13th year will graduate with a high school diploma and a certificate in one of the three tracks.

“We aim to be responsive to our industry sectors by providing as much education and training support as possible, and this is another avenue for us to help in meeting the talent needs of our county,” said Bill Pink, vice president and dean for GRCC’s School of Workforce Development and incoming college president.

“I am happy for our partners, the district and, most importantly, the students who will take advantage of this awesome opportunity.”

Enrollment is open through local school districts. The program starts this fall at the KISD campus, 2930 Knapp St. NE, and the 13th year will take place at GRCC.

Students will earn 63 credits throughout four years and approximately 30 credits if they opt to stop after earning the certificate.

In addition to working on industry-related projects, students will have the opportunity to take tours, job shadow at area manufacturers and possibly land local internships and/or apprenticeships.

Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff noted all 20 of the ISD’s constituent public school districts, as well as some private schools and charters, have expressed interest in the program.

“Career readiness is a huge priority of our superintendents, so we are excited to offer this new program for students across the region who want a good career right out of high school,” he said. “This partnership with our community college and business community offers a really unique opportunity for young people. And we’re glad to be part of the talent pipeline employers need.”

Caniff said part of the funding will come from Kent ISD through its career and technical education millage dollars, and the districts will cover the costs of the 13th year.

He said “the lion’s share” of the idea’s genesis came through Kent ISD’s participation with Talent 2025, a consortium of 100 CEOs working together to supply talent for West Michigan.

“Through that process, as well as talking to a number of our business partners in manufacturing, it became so overwhelmingly apparent that there is a potential shortage in the talent pipeline, particularly in manufacturing,” he said. “Talent 2025 wants to increase the number of workers who have employer-recognized credentials. For that to happen, we have to work in partnership with them.

“We want businesses to grow here in West Michigan and to locate here in West Michigan.”

Dan Clark, dean of academic outreach at GRCC, oversees the college’s dual enrollment and Early/Middle College programs. He said the college has focused on expanding early college opportunities over the past few years.

“Early college programs remove financial and other barriers for students and their families,” he said.

GRCC’s other Early/Middle College programs:

  • Wyoming School District — started in fall 2012, the program offers students an Associate of Arts degree.
  • Cedar Springs School District — started in fall 2014, the program offers an Associate of Arts degree.
  • Careerline Tech Center — started in fall 2016 in partnership with Ottawa Area Intermediate School District and Herman Miller, the program offers an industrial maintenance certificate and up to 30 free transferable college credits.
  • Ottawa Hills High School — scheduled to start in fall 2017, the program will offer students an Associate of Arts degree.

Clark and Amy Koning, dean of workforce development at GRCC, said the college will cap enrollment at 24 students per cohort, and the program will launch with a single cohort this fall.

Koning said GRCC expects some of the 13th-year students will want to continue their education, so the School of Workforce Development plans to be ready for that.

“Some of the students who obtained a mechanical design associate might want to go on for a bachelor’s degree, and we can hand them off to Ferris. We have a great partnership with Ferris; they’re right in our building. We could literally walk them to Ferris and help facilitate those conversations.”

Clark said GRCC plans to offer “wraparound services” to the Early/Middle College students during all four years of their enrollment, not just during the 13th year.

“A tutor might go to the particular location to meet with the students so they don’t have to find a way to get to this campus,” he said. “We have an advisor who has a focus on the Middle College programs. We might have them start having those conversations when they’re a junior, certainly when they’re a senior. We want to make sure they’re on track with what’s next.

“We also provide a student success coach. That individual would meet with students and begin to have conversations with them about organizational skills, time management skills, study skills — those things that plague a first-year student. They might be academically ready but don’t have these other soft skills to get a good grade in the course. We bring that coach along to set plans and track how they’re doing in the course.”

Koning said she thinks Launch U will turn out to be a positive program.

“We’ve seen a lot of emphasis at the state and national level on career and tech education,” she said. “With Ron’s vision of starting up an Early/Middle College in that type of space and to provide students an opportunity to have that 13th year, hopefully we’ll retain our talent here in West Michigan, which is always the goal.”

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