Watts Smith

Laurel School District Superintendent Toy Watts and Jones College President Dr. Jesse Smith sign an agreement for a new program to have high school students graduate with associates degrees through the Middle College program on Tuesday. (Photo by Cam Bonelli)


Students at Laurel High School can now earn an associate’s degree before they graduate high school.

Laurel School District and Jones College announced Tuesday a new dual enrollment program, Middle College, starting in fall 2021. Students will simultaneously earn credits toward their high school diploma and an associate’s degree during their high school career.

Dr. Toy Watts, Laurel School District superintendent, said the Middle College program is an excellent opportunity for students to get a jump start toward earning an advanced degree or career technical education.

“We are thankful to Jones College for their willingness to see this program come to fruition,” Watts said. “We look forward to many more partnerships in the future.”

Laurel School District offers a dual enrollment program in which students could receive college credit for select courses. Students could earn up to 30 hours through dual enrollment, but through the Middle College program, they can earn 60 transferable credit hours, equivalent to an associate of arts degree. The school will continue to offer dual enrollment and the new Middle College program to high school students.

The district was interested in becoming a School of Innovation and applied for the designation, said Michael Eubanks, principal of Laurel High School. 

“There is a long applica-

tion process that requires a lot of partnerships," Eubanks said. "Specifi-

cally for us, we were inter-

ested in the Middle College program with Jones College."

The funding will come from a mixture of federal and local funds. Eubanks said the program will be at no cost to the students, and they will save roughly $2,800 per semester in college tuition, books and fees.

Jones College President Dr. Jesse Smith said this was JC's first collaboration with a school district to provide a Middle College program. 

“We are excited about it because today’s world requires people to have extreme knowledge of technical skills, a great skill set and higher education,” Smith said. “And this is one pathway we can show to reduce the cost and put students into a university setting very quickly and get our best and brightest right out there where we need them.”

The Mississippi Department of Education approved Laurel School District’s School of Innovation designation April 15, allowing the district to partner with Jones College to create this program. 

The Mississippi Legislature passed SB2191 in 2015 which allows school districts to apply for District of Innovation and School of Innovation designations to “improve students’ educational performance” and “qualify for certain board exemptions to provide innovative and flexible programs.” The designation is held by a district for a five-year period and must be renewed.

The district expects 15-20 students for the first Middle College group. To be eligible, students must have a composite ACT score of 19 with a minimum score of a 17 in English and 19 in math and an overall GPA of 3.25. Students will earn an associate of arts in General Studies, covering their core curriculum.

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