New program allows Berrien County high school students to receive free associate’s degree

High school students in Berrien County will have an opportunity to get a head start on college and life by earning a free associate degree or certificate through the new Berrien County Fifth Year Early/Middle College program.

Through the program, which is being offered by Berrien RESA and Lake Michigan College starting this fall, students will take a few college classes along with their regular coursework during their junior and seniors years.

In year 13 — or the “fifth year” of high school — the student will attend college full time and take one remaining high school math course. Tuition, books and fees are provided at no cost to students.

At the end of the fifth year, students who have successfully completed all requirements will receive both a diploma from their high school and a career certificate or associate degree from Lake Michigan College.

Supt. Kevin Ivers, of Berrien RESA, said the program can save students approximately $14,000 in college expenses.

“We felt as a county this is another opportunity to offer kids who want to go to college,” he said. “We are excited to be able to do this on a countywide basis.”

Ivers said students would have the opportunity to walk with their classmates at their school’s graduation ceremony, although they will not receive a high school diploma until the fifth year is complete.

Ivers said they are targeting next year’s junior class because the program takes a three-year commitment (junior, senior and fifth year).

He said school officials estimate around 35 will enroll this fall, but they would like to see 50 take advantage of the opportunity.

Although he doesn’t anticipate reaching capacity, Ivers recommends that students interested in enrolling do so as soon as possible in case openings fill up. Those interested should contact their high school counselor or call Larissa Hunt at (269) 927-8170 or email her at lhunt@lakemichigancollege.edu.

Three informational sessions about the new program will be offered at the following dates and locations:

• Wednesday, Feb. 24 — at 6 p.m. at LMC Napier Campus in Brown Lecture Hall in Benton Harbor

• Thursday, March 3 — 6 p.m. at Berrien RESA Administrative Center in Berrien Springs

• Tuesday, March 8 — at 6 p.m. at LMC Bertrand Campus in Room 116 in Niles

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