RICHMOND — Every high school has them: students who have potential but don't meet the usual standards of success.
Eastern Kentucky University and the Madison County public schools think they've found an answer for those students: Send them to college.
The Middle College at Eastern Kentucky University was unveiled Thursday at EKU. It's not for high school students who are doing advanced work, heading the student government and filling out college applications in their spare time.
Rather, the Middle College is for those who its founders say are being allowed to slip through the cracks of the current education system — those who risk never making it to college.
Madison County Schools Superintendent Tommy Floyd said that the Middle College students — starting with 60 juniors in the 2011-12 school year and growing to 60 juniors and 60 seniors in subsequent years — should be better able to improve their education and provide for their families.
"If we're real serious about economic prosperity," Floyd said, "what are we doing different from what we've done in the last 100 years?"
He said the new program would serve as both a nudge and a mentoring experience for average high-school students to become successful college students.
The Middle College will be on EKU's campus and will allow students to earn high school diplomas while taking college courses. It seeks students who are underperforming and members of populations that are underrepresented in college. Admission will be based on an application, screening interview, grade-point average, ACT score and a counselor's recommendation.
Middle College students will not return to their home schools, but will receive a diploma from one of the two Madison County high schools when they complete 12th grade. Free college tuition is available for up to 18 hours of college credit.
EKU President Doug Whitlock called the new program "exciting, cutting-edge stuff."
Whitlock said he envisioned the concept of middle college spreading to other Kentucky four-year universities, although he thought that no two would be exactly alike.
Floyd said that his district had been working on the idea since he heard Terry Holliday, Kentucky's current education commissioner, discuss his experience with middle colleges in North Carolina when he was a school superintendent there. In Tennessee, Austin Peay State University also runs a middle college.
Bob King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, said the EKU Middle College is the first at a four-year Kentucky university, although the community college at Paducah has established a similar program that he considers a success. That program has allowed students to earn college credit, and two of the students have already earned associate degrees, he said.
"If you give these kids the opportunity to grow up, they grow up," King said.
Kentucky has long had a problem with students who go to college unprepared for college-level work, become discouraged and either drop out or take much longer to complete their degrees than anticipated, King said.