Reducing Debt Before College – A Senior Capstone Project

WMAES student, Randy standing arm in arm with Josh Miller, WMAES Dean of StuentsWMAES Student Randy with Joshua Miller, WMAES dean of students

On February 26 and 27, 32 students presented their senior capstone projects regarding current world issues to a panel of judges. Topics ranged from mental health in teens to online gambling just to name a few. One project, in particular, spotlighted the student loan crisis in America. Senior Randy Miedendorp watched his brother rack up thousands of dollars in student loans and knew he wanted to attend college but wanted to use every resource he could to keep his debt at a minimum.

Among the Class of 2019, 69% of college students took out student loans, and they graduated with an average debt of $29,900. Currently, 45 million college students have student loans (Lending Tree). $1.56 trillion dollars is currently owed in 2020 (Forbes).

“It frightened me. I knew I wanted to attend college, but I wanted to learn more so I used this project as a way to educate myself,” said Randy. “At West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science, they do a good job of giving us the option to earn college credit. I attended Kent County Technical Center (KCTC) in 11th grade where I studied information technology. I earned about 9 credits toward my degree in computer science for free through KCTC.”

Randy realized KCTC was a great opportunity and this sparked his passion for finding more opportunities to gain college credits for himself and his classmates. He decided to study this for his senior capstone project. When Mr. Miller, the secondary dean of students, found out about this, he introduced Randy to the CLEP test. 

A CLEP test is an exam that tests a person for college-level knowledge of a particular subject, and if a person passes the exam, they will be given college credit as if they had actually taken the courses. WMAES students can earn up to 48 credit hours of college credit by testing out of courses that are aligned to the WMAES curriculum. That means two years of college could be completed before graduating from WMAES! 

Dean of Students Mr. Josh Miller is the coordinator of the programs available to secondary students at WMAES. He has helped students enroll in the KCTC program, the advanced placement classes at WMAES, obtain information to take the CLEP test as well as dual-enroll. He is also working to get WMAES registered as a CLEP testing site so students don’t have to go off-site to take the test as transportation can sometimes be an issue. The CLEP test costs $89 but WMAES covers the cost for their students.

“Randy has been a great help in our researching the ability to prepare our students for CLEP tests, and ultimately showing us that our students should be confident in earning college credits from our general curriculum. Between KCTC, AP, CLEP and our dual-enrollment programs, we believe we are leading the way in preparing our students for future in college and careers, and Randy has been a kick-starter in getting our CLEP program started through his senior capstone project,” said Josh Miller.

Not only does KCTC and CLEP offer credits when students complete courses, but they also offer certifications, which are often needed for certain degrees. “I was able to earn certifications for courses in things like Microsoft Office. I will be able to transfer those certifications for college credits, too. I plan to transfer my credits to Grand Rapids Community College and then eventually to a four-year university like U of M,” explained Randy.

“West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science is proud to offer our high school students programs like these. Earning college credit in high school sets them up for success in the future. We want every student to look forward to furthering their education, not dread it because of the financial burden,” said Secondary Principal Alan Bosker. 

WMAES is also proud to offer Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment and Launch U in addition to KCTC and CLEP to offer students more opportunities for college success!