A program that will give students in Lee’s Summit R-7 School District the opportunity to earn up to 30 hours of college credit before high school graduation was made official at a May 21 ceremony.
Through the Innovation Track program — a partnership of Lee’s Summit R-7, Metropolitan Community College and University of Central Missouri — high school juniors and seniors can take college classes on the MCC-Longview campus. About 60 students are signed up to begin this fall.
The goal: to save students both time and money on a college degree.
Lee’s Summit R-7 will offer scholarships to cover the cost of MCC tuition and textbooks for students who qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program. Other students in Innovation Track will pay for their tuition and books, but that tuition will be half-price. In January, MCC’s Board of Trustees approved the discounted tuition for high school students in partner school districts.
The Lee’s Summit district will also provide bus transportation from students’ home high schools to the MCC-Longview campus.
“This program is one of those that is near and dear to my heart under the umbrella of dual enrollment,” when high school students take college classes, MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty said at the signing ceremony at MCC-Longview. “It aligns with my value of access.”
The fundamental mission of community colleges is to provide access to higher education for all, she added. MCC’s half-price tuition for high school students removes a financial barrier for some.
This month, 93 students received both their high school diplomas and an MCC credential (typically an associate degree) as a result of participating in an MCC collegiate academy program.
Dr. Dennis Carpenter, Lee’s Summit R-7 superintendent, said the Innovation Track will result in savings of “real dollars for parents,” who will spend only about $1,500 for a year of MCC college credits. (The average cost — tuition, fees, room and board — for a full-time undergraduate at a four-year, in-state public college was about $21,000 in 2017-18, according to the College Board.)
The scholarship component was critical, Carpenter said. Innovation Track pairs “talent with opportunity,” but despite MCC’s reduced tuition rate, some students would not be able to take advantage of the early-college opportunity “even when the talent is identical.” Students are eligible for Innovation Track if they have a high school GPA of 2.5 or higher and scored at least 18 on the ACT college entrance exam.
“This is a great day for me,” Carpenter said. “It makes me proud.”
Innovation Track is somewhat similar to another Lee’s Summit R-7/MCC/UCM partnership, the Missouri Innovation Campus, but MIC focuses on students going into the STEM fields, and it includes three-year paid internships at high-tech companies.
Innovation Track students might not be entering the cyber security field or becoming software developers, “but these kinds of opportunities need to be made for every student,” said Dr. Chuck Ambrose, president of the University of Central Missouri.
The “single driver” of the wealth gap and the equity gap is college costs, Ambrose noted, adding: “These are not easy decisions (on the part of colleges) to lower tuition rates,” but the result is being able to serve more students.
Three Lee’s Summit students who are signed up for Innovation Track classes spoke at the signing ceremony:
- Rylie Anderson, who will be a junior at Lee’s Summit North, said the program will give her “a head start on college courses.” After she graduates from high school, she plans to take another year of classes at MCC-Longview, which will be paid for by Missouri’s A+ Scholarship program.
- Cassidy Robinson, a senior at Lee’s Summit High School, said Innovation Track seems to be “the perfect fit for my ambitious and very busy life.”
- Isaiah McDaniel, a senior at Lee’s Summit West, said he heard about the program from his mom, who during an informational meeting “whispered in my ear the entire time.” He said Innovation Track will be “taking a lot of cost off my tuition.” He’s also excited to be part of the first group to go through the program.
Innovation Track students will take classes at MCC-Longview in morning or afternoon sessions, either Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday. MCC instructors will teach the courses, and a Lee’s Summit R-7 teacher liaison will be available to offer academic support.