Member Kudos: College Immersion for Urban Students, Ferndale Public Schools

2015 Education Excellence Award Recipient

DashBoard, June 10, 2015

The 20 recipients of the 2015 MASB/SET SEG Foundation Education Excellence Awards are some of the greatest examples of unique and innovative public school programs in the state of Michigan. Over the next few months, MASB will share the details of each program from their applications, presented in alphabetical order by district. This week we highlight the College Immersion for Urban Students program at University High School in Ferndale Public Schools.

Description: The University High School and Wayne State University partnership is a unique program focused on providing urban students with a college immersion experience in their senior year of high school. This is the 10th year partnering with a university, but only the second with WSU.

The partnership between a high school and a university represents a shift in the traditional structure of secondary education. In this unique “school without walls,” the students have the opportunity to experience college life while still attending high school. For many students, often the first college-going members of their families, the college experience is their very first exposure to the rigors and expectations of university life.

The success of UHS graduates is directly attributable to the College Immersion Partnership and the innovative, nontraditional approach to urban education that UHS and its partners have undertaken. Ultimately, the goals of the program are to provide urban students with immersion experiences on a university campus in order to better prepare them for the challenges and expectations of university life, as well as to help them learn vital skills for college success BEFORE they leave for college.

Funding/Resources: The main resources used in the program include: facility space of four classrooms during the school day on the WSU campus in the College of Education; school budget for dual-enrollment opportunities through WSU; and the paid teaching staff for University High School (four core-content area highly qualified teaching staff and two college advisors—the College Transition Specialist who helps students navigate the college application process and the College Success Advisor who follows student success through the college years and helps provide support through college graduation).

Additional costs include bus transportation through the district down to the WSU campus four days per week, and additional volunteer support from WSU College of Education staff and COE mentor students. Other volunteers on the WSU campus include personnel from various departments who organize lecture audits and college visits, the university library staff who coordinate library resource visits and on-site research skills support, and the university Outreach department staff who provide seminars, coordinate campus tours and scavenger hunts focused on college advising.

Outreach: The UHS/WSU Partnership and College Immersion program provides opportunities for all UHS seniors (largely first-generation college-going students) to experience college while still within the confines of a high school program. The program also includes ‘bridging’ activities to introduce students to various buildings, departments and personnel on a college campus. Top UHS students take dual enrollment classes through WSU outreach. As part of the partnership, UHS also provides opportunities for benefits to the university through student teacher placements, administrative intern placements, space in the high school building for WSU use and opportunities for graduate research.

In terms of communication, one of the key foci of the program is to help high school students learn to navigate the college advising process and how to interact with college faculty prior to attending a college or university. This process is initiated in the students’ junior year, when they first begin interacting and working with the UHS staff on the College Success Team, which consists of the College Transition Specialist and the College Success Advisor. The CTS works with UHS students starting at the end of the 11th grade and monitors their progress throughout the 11th and 12th grades, making sure students are on track for graduation and helping with college and scholarship applications. UHS’ 100 percent college acceptance rate and the $1.2 million in scholarships earned by last year’s graduating class (104 students) are a testament to the work of the CTS.

The CSA is responsible for maintaining contact with and assisting UHS graduates throughout their college career. The CSA is a great resource for UHS graduates, largely the first in their family to go to college, when they have issues, including financial aid problems, housing problems, scheduling problems, etc. The CSA will help students resolve issues over the phone or, if necessary, will visit campus to help find solutions. The relationships students develop with these staff members focuses heavily on the communication skills of knowing how to access college-level resources and how to interact with staff members in order to get the support needed to be successful. Our College Team also works directly with WSU to coordinate activities like discussion panels with current university students and Q&A opportunities with financial aid staff. Again, these workshops and activities help students to learn essential communication skills that help prevent them from getting lost in the “resource sea” of university life.

Creativity and critical thinking are two hallmarks of the University High School curriculum and the college preparatory focus of our school program. Many of the courses students take over their four years at UHS are focused on project-based learning, including coursework like Innovative Vehicle Design where students build an electric car and work through a number of problem-solving immersion experiences dependent upon the challenges that arise in their work. In addition to their coursework, the College Immersion experience focuses on these two skills in the activities on the WSU campus, such as the annual scavenger hunt activity across the campus designed by the university outreach staff. In this activity, students must use creativity, critical thinking and collaboration with team members to navigate the entire university campus and answer clues regarding campus resources, including advising offices for the various colleges on campus, accessing the university Writing Center for support in essays and financial aid resource locations. A similar immersion activity occurs in the university Main Library where UHS students work in small teams to learn to navigate the library resources with university librarians, including accessing important digital resources like electronic journals, the MELCAT resource and the many resources they will need for university writing assignments.

Finally, collaboration is one of the key “Cs” in the College Immersion program. Beyond the clear collaborative efforts between the UHS and WSU staffs, students engage in collaborative efforts both among themselves in the team immersion activities, but also with university students in panel events and the final capstone experience. At the end of the year, students work with university mentors in multiple areas of major study to engage in team-building, art therapy and Q&A problem-solving activities grouped by gender to help provide students with opportunities to ask all of their final questions and engage in scenario experiences prior to leaving for their own university life. This collaborative capstone event unifies the entire immersion experience and gives UHS students one final opportunity to actively use and practice key skills for college success.

Results: Over the last few years, the on-campus Immersion program has become ever more ingrained in the UHS school culture. The college experience has been an integral part of creating the college-going culture at UHS and we believe it is one of the primary reasons behind our success in helping urban youth to achieve success at the college level.

The opportunity that has been provided to Detroit students through this partnership is a vital part of preparing them for post-secondary education. The exposure to on-campus life that the partnership provides is both unique and a central component of our students’ decisions to pursue higher education. The success University High School students are experiencing at the college level is evidence of the robust and vital nature of the college partnership.

Despite the fact that UHS students tend to score in similar ACT ranges as the national average for African American students, our college-going and college-retention rates are far beyond the 18 percent national college graduation rate for African-American students. We attribute much of this success to the on-campus time that our urban students have the opportunity to learn from and grow from. As a result, we feel they are better prepared for the challenges of university life and are more likely to persevere to stay in college.

The following statistics regarding UHS students demonstrates this success at the high school and collegiate level for a traditionally under-represented population in college:

  • Student Body: 99 percent African American, 80 percent Detroit residents, 75 percent economically disadvantaged; Title I targeted assistance school
  • 99 percent high school graduation rate
  • 100 percent college acceptance rate
  • 85 percent college attendance rate
  • 80 percent college retention rate
  • Top 15 percent of all schools in the state for college retention
  • UHS recognized in the 2011 ‘Excellent Schools Detroit Report’ as the second highest ranked public school without an entrance exam
  • UHS awarded the 2010 Magna Award by the National School Boards Association for its graduation and college retention rates

(Data provided by and

Below are also examples of the success the UHS-College Partnership has had in a just a few short years:

Program Coordinator: Jason Beatty, UHS School Leader,

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