A new program at UMKC offers free college classes to high schoolers

Jayla Williams is one of the first students to take college classes for UMKC for free/Courtesy photo

Kansas City public high schoolers are in for a ride—to college, for free. The University of Missouri-Kansas City is implementing an early college program that allows every student attending high school in the Kansas City and North Kansas City districts to take college classes and receive college credit.

Students, likely juniors and seniors, can now take UMKC’s college courses on campus. The majority of the classes are in-person only, and the school districts are paying the tuition. A partnership between the university and the public high schools ensures free college credit for students while they earn credit for their high school and college diplomas.

“One of our missions as Kansas City’s University is to serve the students who are here and provide them access to college,” says Kristi Holsinger, a UMKC faculty member who works in the provost’s office. “We want to increase college attainment for them. It’s good for the students, it’s good for their families, it’s good for our community and for our state.”

Not only can students jump ahead in their studies and career, but any Kansas City public high school graduate can also receive an additional scholarship for five years if they enroll at UMKC. The scholarship is $1,500 a year. Students and their families can save at least $6,000 with the scholarship and could save even more by graduating early with the help of the early college program.

The program has advantages for both UMKC and the two local districts, and it could help enrollment in KCMO public high school, a subject that is always top of mind for Show Me KC Schools, a nonprofit that promotes the district.

“The number one reason is that most of the parents and kids that we’re talking to, right now, who are of high school age, are really worried about incurring debt, says Show Me KC Schools executive director Leslie Kohlmeyer. “I think that we’ve all seen a decline in enrollment post-Covid. This is a way to bring back kids and give them that on-ramp to college that they’re looking for.”

So far, only two students are part of the program. “We had hoped to have a lot more students by fall, but just because of the timing, we have a pretty small group right now,” Holsinger says. “We are really excited about that number being a lot higher in the spring and next fall.” UMKC’s largest selling point is that students have a better chance of earning a college degree if they participate in early college programs such as this one. 

Early College Program students can enroll in any degree program and have access to all student services. “Before I got into anything career-wise, I wanted to have the knowledge about it,” says Jayla Williams, one of the participants. “Just know the different methods and skills and how to perfect them before I do anything with theater or acting.” Williams, a junior at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, got into the early college program after showing interest in theater arts. 

Through the program, Williams has already realized new things about herself, including reevaluating her study habits. “It’s giving you the accountability part because no one is going to ask, ‘Did you do this?’ Either you do it or you don’t,” Williams says. “So it’s all about having that decision-making.”

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