It’s a bright and sunny Thursday afternoon and Ortonville resident Melinda Cheng finds herself on the Oakland Community College (OCC) campus, just a couple weeks into the 2017-2018 school year.
But this isn’t the first time the 19 year old has been on this campus – not by a long shot. Thanks to the Oakland County Accelerated College Experience program (better known as ACE to students), Cheng has been going to college since she was a junior at Brandon High School.
Jim Troost, ACE program director, said Oakland ACE is for students in Oakland County high schools who may have challenges surrounding college enrollment and success. The program is designed to catch these students early on in their academic careers to support their success in college coursework (all while still attending high school) with the hopes of them earning as much as an associate degree – debt free.
“For the 2017-2018 school year, ACE has its highest number of students enrolled (162) since the program first began in 2013,” he said. “We are thrilled this program continues to see increases in participation as we believe it serves a very valuable need in our county.”
Troost said students eligible for the program are those from families with little to no post-secondary education experience or students from low socio-economic groups.
“Parents without college degrees can find it difficult to support their kids going to college both financially and, in terms of providing guidance,” he explained. “ACE covers the cost of college tuition, fees and textbooks, plus provides advice and support every step of the way.”
As the daughter of parents who immigrated during the Vietnam War, Cheng qualified for the program. They did not attend college, making Cheng a first generation college student. She said she has received support for ACE from her parents from the first day she entered the program in 10th grade.
“My parents have always told me the US is a world of possibilities where you can be whatever you want to be,” she said. “My parents grew up from a place that wasn’t like that, so they always pushed me … to pursue what I wanted in life.”
Students like Cheng who meet the eligibility requirements apply in 10th grade and then commit to a three-year program that goes through 11th and 12th grades, plus a year as a full-time student at Oakland Community College, explained Troost. The goal is to have the high schoolers split their learning time between high school and college courses, working toward their high school diploma and a college degree at the same time. With essential college expenses all covered by the program, students can complete the equivalent of two years of college at no cost to them or their families.
Now a graduate of Brandon High School, Cheng has eased right into life at OCC, taking classes to become a nurse, hoping to get into OCC’s nursing program by next fall. Cheng has two younger sisters who are also in ACE now; one plans to stdy obstetrics and gynecology and the other pharmacology.
Cheng said she was inspired to be a nurse when her father got into a serious accident and she saw how kind his doctor was to him.
“That really made an impact on me and my family,” she explained. “His doctor at the time was just super nice and they way he took care of my dad and it was really inspiring.”
Cheng believes being in the program has prepared her in many ways, most importantly when it comes to handling the unique pressures that college can bring compared to high school.
“Being in the program, it taught you more about getting good grades, time management, solving problems and finding other resources for other problems that come up,” she said. “They always taught us to make use of all our resources. ACE gives you a taste of what the real world is like.”
To learn more about the ACE program, call (248) 209-2396 or visit https://oakland.k12.mi.us/families-community/school-student-programs/accelerated/pages/default.aspx.
Sarah (Cormier) Davis is a communications specialist for Oakland Schools Communication Services department.