Sixth graduating class of Henry Ford Early College exit with two debt-free diplomas, ready for work

This May 11th, hats and tassels will cloud the skies of Dearborn as students of Henry Ford Early College become that school's sixth graduating class. The program began in 2007, preparing students for a career in the healthcare industry through a unique curiculum that takes students through the 9th to 13th grades. Students not only graduate with a high school diploma, but also a two-year associate degree or certification in a healthcare field.

The early college program was started by Dearborn Public Schools and is open to high school students throughout Wayne County. Students attend class at the Henry Ford College campus where they study a mix of high school and college level courses, taking one college course in 9th grade and increasing that number through the 13th grade level. The focus is on the healthcare industry; students begin shadowing employees at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit in the 9th grade.

It's an opportunity for students to be ready for the healthcare workforce before they enter their twenties--and debt-free, too. Graduates are also better prepared for a four-year degree, should they want to further their education.

Though Dearborn Public Schools started the Henry Ford Early College with a focus on the field of healthcare, they've since expanded their offerings. The district now offers a similar program for students entering the manufacturing and technology industries and is looking to start a third program in the fall of 2018 that focuses on students that want to become teachers.

Other extended learning options offered by the district include the Henry Ford Collegiate Academy and the Michael Berry Career Center. Dearborn Public Schools also boasts the most dual-enrollment classes in the state.

"We want to provide students with a wide variety of options," says Dearborn Public Schools Marketing and Communications Director David Mustonen. We want students to have those choices because not every student fits into the same peg hole. Everyone has different paths and we want to promote different opportunities for them."

While not the sole factor, Mustonen credits Dearborn's early college programs as contributing to that district's rise in graduation rates and decline in dropout rates. Dearborn Public Schools had a 93 percent graduation rate in 2016, a significant increase from its 76 percent graduation rate in 2011. Over that same period, dropouts decreased from 113 in 2011 to 32 in 2016.

Learn more about Henry Ford Early College online.

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.