Recent news reports have made much ado over the academic shortcomings of the average American student and how U.S. high school students lag behind their Asian and European counterparts in math and science.
But Dontay Muhammad is a notable exception. The slight 15-year-old graduated from an online high school at age 14 in May 2010 and entered the College as a full-time student three months later.
According to Muhammad, he tested as academically gifted by a psychologist at First Coast Academy, the Internet high school that he attended for 11th and 12th grades. His grades and SAT scores were high enough to win entrance to a four-year college or university. However, his parents balked at sending their 15-year-old to live on a campus where he would be at least three years younger than most of his freshman classmates.
Their concern was that the age difference might make Muhammad a social outcast. They decided he would live at his North Philadelphia home and attend Community College of Philadelphia for two years, giving him time to mature physically and mentally before transferring to a four-year school.
The oldest of four children, Muhammad agreed with his parents’ decision. “I probably would be lost at a big university,” he said. “This was a way to become accustomed to college life and college work before transferring to a big university.”
Muhammad is doing well in his classes, and has joined two student clubs that jibe with his interest in computer technology and motion picture animation.
His long-term plan is to earn an associate’s degree in Computer Science and transfer to the University of Maryland to complete his undergraduate studies. He said his acclamation to college life was eased by his participation in the Center for Male Engagement’s four-week summer orientation camp for entering male freshmen.
“I like the various programs they have here to help students,” he said. “That was very important to me. At 15, I need all the help I can get.”
U.S. Department of Education data shows the number of community college students age 18 and under grew from 5.3 percent in 2003 to 6.7 percent in 2007. This does not include students who are enrolled in college courses while in high school.Community College of Philadelphia has no age restriction but does require applicants to have completed at least the eighth grade and to have demonstrated the academic skill and maturity necessary for College work through a College placement test and an interview with the director of Admissions.
When alumnus and Philadelphia police lieutenant Brian Sprowal’s mother completed her bachelor’s degree in 2006, her son was bitten by the higher education bug and has not looked back since.
Raised in North Philadelphia, Sprowal took classes offered by the College at the Police Academy, on the College’s Main Campus and even in the Cambria Community Center prison as part of the College’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which provides opportunities for college students and prison inmates to have transformative learning experiences.
Sprowal, who was a recipient of multiple scholarships offered to police officers and funded by the Kal and Lucille Rudman Foundation, was so moved by the Inside-Out experience that he committed to underwrite a scholarship for one of the inmate students, if the student decides to pursue higher education once he is released from prison.
Ultimately, Sprowal earned an associate’s degree in Criminal Justice, graduating with highest honors. A sergeant in the police force when he enrolled at the College in 2007, Sprowal was promoted to police lieutenant last October and is now platoon commander of the 16th Police District, where he manages 47 officers.
Sprowal says that as with most careers, achievement in higher education is absolutely necessary in order to advance in the ranks of the Police Department. Currently working toward a February 2011 graduation from Gwynedd-Mercy College with a bachelor’s in Business Administration and a concentration in Organizational Management, Sprowal is weighing options for pursuing his master’s degree.“Community College of Philadelphia was a great starting point for me because I wasn’t ready for a four-year school when I graduated from public high school. I wasn’t mature enough,” said Sprowal, who would like to someday advance to the level of chief of police. “I would also like to teach because I think we need teachers who can say to inner-city students, ‘I was you. This is what I did to get where I am today, and you can do it too.’”