New Gateway to College graduates are, from left, Alex Cotton, Northwest Rankin High School; Nicholas Anthony Torrence, Brandon High School; Kaitlyn Delories McNeely, Brandon High School; Larry Maples, Northwest Rankin High School; and Sam Lewis, Northwest Rankin High School. The five graduated from high school in the program through a partnership of Hinds Community College and Rankin County schools by taking college courses and receiving credit at both the high school and college levels.

 Alex Cotton spoke on behalf of the graduating class.




Alex Cotton credits a bad case of senioritis with his dropping out of Northwest Rankin High School.

He missed so much class there was no way he could walk at graduation with friends he had known since second and third grade.

“We all kind of had a little pow-wow right after I dropped out,” said Cotton, 19. “It was just kind of sad that I wouldn’t be walking with them because I have known them so long.”

But one of those friends read in a local newspaper about a new Gateway to College partnership between Hinds Community College and schools in Rankin County last summer. The partnership, based on the Rankin Campus in Pearl, would allow dropouts or potential dropouts to finish high school by taking college classes for credit and get both a high school diploma and a head start on college.

He was so intrigued by the possibility that he came ready to enroll before application packets were even ready.

“Now I’m happy to say I’m part of the first graduating class,” he said of the June 6 ceremony. “And there are at least five more individuals in the world with a high school diploma.”

Cotton already has 14 hours at Hinds, where he plans to continue for at least two more semesters.

Hinds President Dr. Clyde Muse said Gov. Phil Bryant’s support of the Mississippi Works legislation paved the way for the unique partnership in Mississippi. State funding dollars follow the student to the community college, where they enroll in tuition-free college classes for dual credit.

Gateway to College is based in Oregon, but the model has been replicated at 43 colleges in 23 states. Hinds CC applied for a grant to become the first Mississippi Gateway to College site.

Muse said many students drop out for reasons that have nothing to do with academics. “A lot of them have different reasons and might say, ‘I’m just going to call it quits and not continue my education,’” Muse said. “This is a creative program, a great opportunity.”

Dr. Lynn Weathersby, Rankin County schools superintendent and a member of the Hinds Community College Board of Trustees, praised the five graduates for not giving up. “You’re a group who knew you needed ‘something else.’ You’re now receiving the benefit of that ‘something else.’”

Gateway to College began in fall 2012. The program has 85 enrolled for fall 2013 but is still taking applications throughout the summer, said Gateway to College Director Valerie Barton.

“Gateway is a program of second chances for high school students to graduate with a diploma. Many caring people came together as partners to provide this opportunity,” said Dr. Sue Powell, vice president for Hinds’ Rankin Campus.

For more information, contact Barton at 601.936.5580 or at or see the Hinds website at

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