Smart Ways to Try College (While Still in High School)

Dipping into college courses makes a lot of sense for some high school students. Through Washtenaw Community College, students are gaining skills for future STEM careers while still in high school.

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Some high school students have a crystal clear idea of where they want to go and what they want to be in life. But others — beyond knowing that they will need additional education after graduation — are far less certain about their future path.

“What is the purpose of higher education? It’s to be prepared to get a future job or career. But a lot of students are going on to college without that kind of direction,” says Cyndi Millns, department chair of Computer Science and Information Technologies at Washtenaw Community College.

Even while still in high school, students can take advantage of Washtenaw Community College to learn skills, engage in immersive activities and even earn credit or credentials, all while gaining a much clearer idea of where they want to go in their future careers.

Diving into STEM through cybersecurity

Millns works with high school students in Livingston County who are interested in learning cybersecurity skills. Through CyberPatriot, a national youth cyber education program run by the U.S. Air Force, middle and high school students learn how to fix open vulnerabilities in computer programs. And, through co-curricular programming, they join students from Washtenaw Community College for afterschool cyber competitions.

“What I love about this is we have college students and high school students working together,” Millns says. “It’s a great confidence builder for students in these situations, competing with and against college students and doing it well.”

Here in Michigan and across the country, technical skills are — and will continue to be — in very high demand, says Millns, who points to a statistic on the website CyberSeek indicating a current 46,000-person talent shortfall of cybersecurity analysts, just one of the cyber jobs most in demand today. Automotive, including transportation systems and mobility, are one sector, but fields such as health care and manufacturing also need workers with skills in cybersecurity and IT, she says.

Washtenaw Community College offers five specific courses in cyber security, an associate degree and two certificates, one of which is specific to automotive cyber security.

Earning college credit while still in high school

In addition to pursuing high school-level courses in career and technical education, many students can join Early/Middle College, a program that allows them to take courses at community college as part of their high school curriculum, then graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degree with just one extra year of school. This positions them to enter the workforce directly or to go on to college with plenty of credits already completed.

Even if students don’t enter Early/Middle College, they can participate in dual enrollment courses at Washtenaw Community College, gaining college credit they can take with them after they graduate to community college or to one of many Michigan colleges and universities through the Michigan Transfer Agreement.

In many cases, public school dollars can be used to pay for dual enrollment credits. “If not, the costs are minimal — a fraction of the cost at a big university,” says Millns. [Mi1] And, while many community colleges are offering courses online due to COVID-19, high school students have even more flexibility in earning credits early on.

With Washtenaw Community College as a local resource, many students are able to enrich their high school educational experiences and take on challenges they wouldn’t otherwise find. For some kids, Millns says, this is just the direction they need.

“A number of high school students are ready for that next level, and this provides the next step in their life,” Millns says.

Since 1999, 12,524 students have taken advantage of dual enrollment through Washtenaw Community College. Currently, there are 1,171 dual enrolled high school students for the Fall semester.

Learn more about the many educational opportunities available through Washtenaw Community College at wccnet.edu.

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