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Kelley Emerson


Kelley Emerson enrolled in college as an adult after graduating at the bottom of her high school class. Jackson College staff helped her realize that college could be a possibility, and Emerson went on to become one of the top community college students in the nation.

“I graduated from Clinton High School, a small school with 65 in our class. Of that 65, I had the lowest GPA,” Emerson said. Although she had always dreamed of going to college, she lacked the resources or knowledge to enroll immediately after high school. She was married and started a family, and through the years, she and her husband, Jim, tried to save money to be able to afford the dream of a college education but had trouble getting ahead. “If you don’t have any kind of education, it’s hard to get a job that keeps you out of debt.”

Years later, her son was selected for the College Incentive Program, which offered a two-year scholarship to selected sixth-graders upon their high school graduation. The family came to campus for a ceremony, and during a campus tour, an admission representative shared information that would forever change Emerson’s world.

“I talked about how I really had always wanted to go to college and really couldn’t afford it, but I was happy my son would be able to afford it. They said there were these things called Pell Grants (financial aid), and I thought I probably wouldn’t qualify. They said I probably would if my son was part of this. That was all I needed – I was enrolled the next semester. It was just the most magnificent experience.”

Not only did Emerson enroll, but she excelled. Despite graduating at the bottom of her high school class, she maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout college. She was selected as the first-ever George Potter Outstanding Student of the Year scholarship winner and was part of the national All-USA Academic First Team for two-year colleges by selected by USA Today and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and the New Century Scholar for the state of Michigan.

“One of the things that was astonishing to me was the support I received at Jackson College. It negated in my mind that was I not academically inclined,” she said. When she was named to the national All-USA College Academic Team, universities across the country tried to reach her and recruit her for transfer. “It was amazing that I could go from the least likely to succeed to someone who is having these universities calling me,” she said. “I don’t think I would have graduated with the kinds of honors I would have if it hadn’t been for the people here.”

Emerson chose the University of Michigan to transfer to and complete her bachelor’s degree. She continues to work there today at the University of Michigan Science Learning Center.