BELOIT—Thanks to the School District of Beloit’s newly-launched Collegiate Academy, students will have the opportunity to graduate high school with an associate degree or technical diploma at no cost to them.

Transportation would be provided via free shuttle service to and from the Blackhawk Technical College (BTC) sites, and there will be a dedicated space for Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS) students at the college when students commence their classes next fall.

With the cost of a two-year degree including textbooks being as much as $10,000, district officials said it will be great for families. Director of Career and Technical Education Mitchell Briesemeister said the program would be paid for through the Start College Now Program supported by district and state funds.

Students will be able to obtain a technical diploma or associate degree from the following career paths: automotive technician, business management, culinary arts, early childhood education, foundations of teacher education, pre-nursing and welding.

“We believe in students’ potential and understand the need for a strong and talented workforce in this region,” said School District of Beloit Interim Co-Superintendent William Beckley.

Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther said the Collegiate Academy is an amazing opportunity for high school students to gain critical skills to prepare for the workforce or post-secondary education.

“Our local businesses need more qualified employees. This will be a great benefit to our community at large,” Luther said.

School District of Beloit Board of Education Vice President John Wong thanked those who took an idea and brought it to fruition. He commended board member Megan Miller for her drive and passion in moving the project forward as well as Briesemeister, Executive Director of School Leadership and Equity Peggy Muehlenkamp, BMHS Principal Emily Pelz and the team at BTC.

“This is really a game-changing announcement for our area,” said BTC President Tracy Pierner. “We are at the precipice of how we approach secondary education in our community and state.”

During their freshman and sophomore year, students will attend class at BMHS. During their junior and senior year students will attend classes at one of BTC’s three locations and may also be required to take courses at the high school.

To prepare for the rigor of the program, students can begin taking advanced English and math courses in eighth grade. After strong performance during freshman year, students their sophomore year would need to earn qualifying scores on the ACT Aspire test, submit an application for admission to the student’s chosen Collegiate Academy and apply to BTC.

Pierner said what is known as early and middle colleges result in less student debt, better student preparedness and higher graduation rates. Middle colleges, which started in the 1990s, is where the high school resides on a college campus. In the late 1990s it was recognized there was an opportunity for another type of pathway, the early college partnership where eleventh and twelfth graders immerse themselves in college at an earlier age. Pierner said the early college model is new in the area but not new in the country.

“With college credit attainment being the best predictor of completion of college, it’s easy to see how significant this early college experience is for students,” Pierner said.