The classroom mood is still and silent on this winter Wednesday morning as adjunct professor Terry P. Reen lectures 24 students about functions of brain portions such as the thalamus and hypothalamus.
Reen, a Mott Community College instructor, has driven about an hour to the Tuscola County village of Millington from his home in Fenton, in Genesee County, to teach this three-credit college psychology class.
Students pay little attention as a newspaper reporter and photographer are ushered into the room — an indication, perhaps, of students’ attitude about this course. These, after all, are Millington High School students, earning college credits at their own high school — without having to attend such classes after school or in the evening, or in another city — and receiving free tuition.
Welcome to “Cardinal College” — the first “enhanced dual enrollment” program in Tuscola County — in Millington, population 1,048.
“We take this very seriously,” said Hannah Hall, 16, a Millington High School junior and daughter of John and Amy Hall.
“It’s very good for us and we’re all very honored that we’re able to take this class,” Hall said. “There are times when it’s tough with the homework and then we have high-school classes, too, but we can manage to do it all.”
Due to the fact the college classes occur in the morning, Hall also gets to continue playing on her school basketball and track teams.
She also remains with the same 24 juniors and seniors chosen to take the classes as a “cohort” — remaining together for their college instruction — throughout the school year inside former Meachum Junior High School, remodeled for the occasion.
“We reopened the south end of this building — a building that had been pretty well closed for a lot of years — by putting some money into that through a grant that we received,” said Bruce Martin, superintendent of Millington Community Schools in southern Tuscola County, about 27 miles from Mott Community College in Flint.
“This didn’t cost anything from our (school district) general fund,” Martin said. “We also moved our alternative-education program down there as well.”
Martin estimates the school district will pay $53,000 for the Cardinal College program this school year, though it receives about $8,000 back from the state in connection with the program.
District officials made sure that college credits gained through the “Cardinal College” curriculum are accepted at other public universities and colleges in Michigan. They also see to it that the college classes aren’t subjects taught by teachers at Millington High School.
“This is to enhance what we’re already offering at the high school,” Martin said.
The school district pays tuition for students, who must pay for their own books — and realize the work involved in reading them.
“Obviously, there’s a lot more reading and a lot more studying to get their exams and tests done,” said Nick Eickhoff, 18, a senior and son of Aaron and Amy Eickhoff.
“It gives us an advantage going into college, because we get a view of what to expect next year, and a nice understanding of what college is going to be like,” Eickhoff said. “Going from a high-school class to a college class is pretty different, but once you get the hang of it, it’s just like school.”
If students’ parents impressed upon them the benefits of earning college credits for free — at home and during the day — so did Reen, their instructor.
“I told them from the get-go: ‘Look, you’re saving your family a lot of money. This particular psychology class would cost over $3,000 at (the University of Michigan-Flint) for a semester, and it’s over $1,000 at Mott,’” Reen said. “I said ‘By getting this paid for, you’re really getting a jump on your education, and any money you can save for your families is a fantastic thing, because student loans are a heck of a thing to try to overcome.’”
Students also avoid paying the costs of room-and-board at a college or university, or the travel costs of journeying to and from such institutions as a commuter.
Steve Bouvy, principal for grades 6-12 at Millington, has noted that “in Mott tuition alone, the savings (for earning 24 college credits) is going to be over $5,000 per student.” He added that if a Cardinal College student plans to transfer those credits to the University of Michigan, for example, “those credits are worth a lot more, so it could save families more than ($5,000).”
The 24 students in the cohort were chosen by Millington district officials via an extensive application process and also had to pass a placement test to become Mott Community College students. The first two courses in the fall semester were sociology and speech, while psychology and music appreciation are being taught this semester.
“That’s where Mott said this is so unusual and so creative,” Martin said. “They said ‘To our knowledge, there’s no other program designed like this in Michigan — not in any dual-enrollment programs or with any colleges — where a cohort of students moves through together.’”
“We vetted these kids really hard,” said Dewey Munson, dean of students for sixth through 12th grades at Millington.
Bouvy said district officials considered student grade-point averages, pre-SAT (test) scores, attendance, behavior and required students to write an essay and receive recommendation from a teacher.
“In some students’ cases, teachers said they’re not ready,” Munson said.
Millington administrators did their homework, Reen said.
“These students are a very serious group and I think they were all very motivated and they are all goal-oriented kids,” Reen said. “I was told that this is a great group of kids, and they’ve been great. They’ve listened attentively and they ask good questions.
“I really like coming here, because they’re probably even more motivated, maybe, than my average college student.”
Another incentive for Millington students to take the college classes is that their grades in the college classes don’t count toward their high-school grade-point averages.
Bouvy, however, noted that 17 of the 24 Cardinal College students earned “A” grades in both of the college classes in the fall semester.
Munson said most dual-enrollment classes allowing students to acquire college credits take place after school.
“A lot of our top students are our top athletes, and it’s almost impossible to dual enroll as an athlete because of practices after school,” Munson said. “Our top students who are our athletes had no opportunity to take these kinds of classes, but this (morning schedule) allows these athletes to be in these programs, too.”
Martin credited Bouvy and Munson with huddling with Mott Community College officials to make the morning classes a reality.
“A lot of professors didn’t want to come up here because it’s too far away — it’s a bit of a haul to get here — but I’m semi-retired so therefore it worked out OK for me,” Reen said.
“We’ve actually had a group of people that work here that have wanted this for a long time,” Bouvy said. “This has been a priority of a lot of people on our building leadership team for a while.”
The college classes are 90 minutes long and take place Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Cardinal College students aren’t required to report to school until 9:45 a.m. on Friday, “so there are some perks to being in college,” Bouvy said.
Cardinal College classes end early in May, so students in those classes won’t need to arrive at Millington High School until 9:45 a.m. that month or in June.
Cardinal College also has worked out well for Millington Community Schools, which has seen increased interest from out-of-district students who have become aware of the program.
“The bottom line is that this is a business,” Munson said. “We want the kids to have the opportunity, we want to keep them safe and we want to put money to draw more kids into our district.”
“We actually had students transfer to our school district from other schools, and when they filled out their ‘Schools of Choice’ application, they wrote ‘Cardinal College’ on those applications,” Bouvy said. “Even junior-high students wrote that down.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org