by Pamela Young, Published May 23, 2011
The Early College Alliance @ Eastern Michigan University (ECA), an innovative educational program, offers struggling school districts a way to not only increase graduation rates, but also save money and leverage state funding to provide educational options.
The ECA, a consortium of seven Washtenaw County school districts, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) and Eastern Michigan, offers students an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and college credits from EMU.
"It's an excellent example of secondary and post secondary collaboration," said David Dugger, ECA program director and director of educational options for the WISD.
"There is a huge cost savings by combining high school and college. The goal is to provide relevant and rigorous educational options, improve student achievement, and collaborate with community leaders, so students remain in the state after graduation."
Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Lincoln Consolidated, Milan, Whitmore Lake, Willow Run and Ypsilanti Public Schools are participating school districts, with the WISD serving as fiscal agent.
It typically takes 115 percent of Michigan's foundation allowance (the per-pupil amount of state funding by Michigan that pays for school operations) to educate a high school student, Dugger said.
The ECA @ Eastern Michigan educates its students for less than 100 percent of the allowance, and students earn up to 60 college credits at no cost to themselves and their families, according to Dugger. The program currently receives 95 percent of the state foundation allowance from its seven partner districts and all resources are committed to educating the student.
"Gov. Snyder has challenged school districts to offer college credit to increase the number of four-year degrees," Dugger said. "Students can earn their high school diploma and up to 60 college credits through the ECA. We offer advanced college-level courses in math, science, social sciences and English for strong, academically focused students."
Students from partnering districts are chosen through a lottery, so every student is eligible, Dugger said. They submit an enrollment application in ninth or tenth grade, and move through the program independently to university course work only after demonstrating specific emotional, social and academic skills.
ECA instructors also are from the school districts. They specialize in math, science, social sciences and English, and teach the core ECA classes. They also serve as academic mentors to a group of students while they are in the ECA program. Eastern Michigan faculty members teach Eastern's classes.
Basically, there are nearly 400 students and 12 full time and three part time staff members in the ECA @ Eastern Michigan compared to a traditional public school program with 400 students and 40 staff members.
"Our staff works with Eastern's faculty to learn what skills students need to be successful, so they will be prepared for college," Dugger said. "The curriculum also offers mentors and helps them develop soft skills, such as life management skills, and how to be a college student. We prepare students to be successful at Eastern Michigan."
The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the ECA as a four plus one program. On average, students remain in the ECA program a year beyond high school or more to complete the program requirements as needed.
Student scores indicate the program is working. ECA students are the best performers on campus, passing EMU courses with a C or better more than 82 percent of the time, according to Dugger. ECA students on average score a 23.5 out of a possible 36 on the ACT. The state average is 19.1.
"Most schools cling to traditional ideas of what education is, even when confronted with ECA's success," Dugger said. "You have to have the leadership and willingness to think creatively and believe this is possible.
"Such leadership and support have come from EMU President Susan Martin, Provost Jack Kay, the Eastern Leaders Group (a partnership between EMU and civic and private sector leaders), and the WISD. You'd never see this in a traditional public school. EMU is the only four-year Michigan University with a different mentality."