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For many college freshmen the experience of living on campus is as important as the education they receive in the classroom. It’s the time when young adults get to test out who they are and how they want to be in the world. Now, thanks to an innovative partnership between Central Michigan University and Mid Michigan College, that opportunity is available to more high school graduates than ever before.

“The residential element - being at a university - is a huge benefit for students,” says Kira Castle, “Feeling like they’re at college is important. Being away from their hometown has been beneficial for many. They have an opportunity to decide what kind of student they want to be.”

Castle is a mentor to students at Mid Michigan College and spends much of her time serving the students who make up the Chippewa Achieve Program (CAP) cohort each year. She’s also an enthusiastic proponent of the partnership.

Currently wrapping up its second year, CAP seats are filled by invitation only and designed as an on-ramp to a full education experience at CMU. Students who don’t meet the standards for admission to CMU straight out of high school, but show the potential to be a valuable member of the student body are invited to instead reserve one of fifty CAP spots. Once they accept, they can live at CMU and participate in University life while attending classes at Mid Michigan College.

CAP student Holly Lurges

Castle says it’s the best of both worlds for students who may need just one more stepping stone on the path to earning a degree. “With CAP they get the full university experience, but also the strong support and small class size of community college.”

It’s CAP’s highly structured, financially attainable, and yet still immersive experience that both Mid Michigan College and CMU see as key to its success.

“We’re three miles apart, and up until CAP there was no really solid collaboration,” said Erin Smith-Gaken, Associate Director of Student Success at CMU, “We saw it as an opportunity to work together and help students on both ends. There are lots of programs such as conditional admit or bridge programs, but not many where students get to live at university and attend community college for a full year.”

Of course, with innovation comes complexity and both Castle and Smith-Gaken say CAP is no exception. Bringing the program to fruition has taken a full decade. Meeting notes from 2008 show when the organizations’ leadership boards first began talking about something like this, but the logistics took years to work out. “It’s simple on paper, but complex to actually execute,” says Castle. And with complexity comes room for improvement.

Smith-Gaken says only about half of the first cohort of CAP students ultimately transferred to CMU after taking classes at Mid Michigan College, but they’re improving those numbers already.

“We did a better job at encouraging commitment in the second year,” said Castle, “We increased their sense of belonging. I think it’s normal for every college freshman to ask themselves, ‘did i choose the right college’.” Both organizations are working to ensure CAP students feel like true Chippewas by the end of their year at Mid Michigan College.

In fact, Castle says CAP has been a benefit to Mid Michigan College students even beyond the program itself. It’s highlighted ways the transfer process can be streamlined for all students and given both organizations a clearer picture of what is needed for student success. For instance, Castle says, they know that the more credits a student has completed before transfer, the more likely they are to earn a four-year degree, and they’re working on ways to ensure students will be successful once they make their transition to CMU.

That’s good news, because the program is garnering attention beyond the students who receive invitations to participate. “Anecdotally, we’re seeing more and more each year that people are familiar with the program even before being invited,” said Castle, “Some are even considering coming to Mid and transferring to Central outside of the CAP program.”

Students interested in CAP can find more information at

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