Ferndale, MI and Early College Program Reduce Barriers to Career in Law Enforcement

ARTICLE | Jun 9, 2015

It’s an issue across the nation, a regular headline in the news. Rampant mistrust of law enforcement by youth and people of color. Disinterest in the profession by minorities and women. A lack of diversity in police departments.

“It’s not a new problem, and it’s not going away,” says Timothy Collins, Chief of Police for the Ferndale, MI, Police Department. After more than thirty-five years with the department—the last five spent as chief—Collins has experienced firsthand the challenge in attracting minorities and people of color to the field of law enforcement. Now, he’s ready to take action and find a solution.

“The challenge exists, and there’s no light-switch fix,” Collins says. “Have you heard the phrase, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?’ We knew that if we wanted to diversify our police department, we were going to have to break that cycle and try something completely different.”

In order to find a new, more innovative solution, Collins sat down with staff from the City of Ferndale and Ferndale Public School District to brainstorm. From that discussion, a new idea was born: the Early College Program.

The program, which launches this fall, is a unique new collaboration between Ferndale Public Schools, the Ferndale Police Department, and Baker College. Ferndale public high school students who enroll in the Early College Program will earn college credit while still in high school, then complete a “13th year” of schooling to receive their associate’s degree. Students can choose from four concentrations of study: criminal justice, medical assistance, computer programming, and business and marketing. The entire program is free.

“Globally speaking, this kind of idea isn’t really new,” Collins says. “But it’s new for us and our area.”

Collins and the Ferndale Police Department have been instrumental in helping to shape the Early College Program’s criminal justice concentration. Ferndale officers will serve as instructors, providing field training and teaching skills classes.

“By getting kids interested at the high school level, our hope is that we see more young people, and a broader audience of them, wanting to pursue careers in law enforcement.”

Collins says that one of the most innovative aspects of the program is that it removes the barriers that often prevent students from finishing their education. After completing the 13th year and earning an associate’s degree, students pursuing the criminal justice concentration are able to move right into an accredited police academy. Loans typically aren’t offered for police academy programs, but in this case the academy is considered an extension of the Early College Program. That means students can apply for Pell Grants, loans, and other alternative funding sources to cover the cost of attendance.

“We don’t just lose young people due to lack of interest—we lose them because of financial reasons as well,” Collins says. “It’s not an absolute solution, but this program will certainly make it easier for our students to attend and complete college.” 

Any tenth-grade Ferndale Public School student who meets the academic requirements will be eligible for the Early College Program. Though the Ferndale Police Department is closely involved with the educational programming, there is no requirement or expectation that students who complete the program and graduate from the police academy stay and work in Ferndale—though Collins would be thrilled if they did.

“This is meant to be a global, long-term solution,” Collins says. “But ideally, yes, we would love to have these young people come back to or stay in Ferndale.”

In the coming months, Ferndale Public Schools will launch the program and enroll its first students. Collins and staff at the City of Ferndale are eager to see the program come to fruition and witness the impact it will make on the lives—and future careers—of Ferndale youth.

“This idea really was born out of sincerity,” Collins says. “We are sincere when we say that we want this profession to be open and accessible to all. And we’re going to do our very best to make that happen.”

For more information on the Ferndale Public Schools Early College Program, please www.ferndaleschools.org/academics/earlycollege.

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