Teens getting a jump-start on higher education
BY KATHLEEN BOLUS
The Times-Tribune via AP
More high school students than ever are taking advantage of discounted credits at local universities and college programs to get a jump-start on their postgrad schooling, especially at Valley View.
Valley View High School has the most students — 114 — in its history participating in dual enrollment coursework during school hours at five local colleges and universities in Lackawanna County, said Superintendent Michael Boccella, Ed.D.
Two students are enrolled in courses at Johnson College; 19 at Lackawanna College; 33 at Marywood University; five at Penn State Scranton; and 55 at the University of Scranton, noted Boccella.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to expand my horizons and to get to know the college and get a jump- start,” said Valley View senior Mackenzie McHale. “It was definitely intimidating at first but I think it’s great to get the exposure at such a young age.”
Mackenzie, who has participated in dual enrollment since sophomore year, has taken more than five courses, which is between 15 and 20 college credits.
Around 20 years ago, high schools across the country began collaborating with colleges and universities to offer credits for high school classes, sometimes called concurrent enrollment. Colleges then began opening up their classrooms and creating programs for high school students to learn alongside their college peers.
Professors at the University of Scranton created the High School Business Scholars program in 2018; Lackawanna College started the associate degree track program Level Up Lackawanna in 2018; and Johnson College offers an Industry Fast Track program for high school juniors and seniors.
Credits through any number of dual enrollment programs come at deeply discounted rates.
For example, the cost for a three-credit course for a high school student from Valley View is $525 at the University of Scranton; $450 at Johnson College; $300 at Lackawanna College; $525 at Marywood University; and $912.50 at Penn State University.
A full-time nontraditional undergraduate student at the University of Scranton pays $1,164 per credit, according to the school’s website; and part-time students at Lackawanna pay $535 per credit, according to the school’s website.
“Students and parents are realizing how economically efficient this is,” said Boccella. “They are paying less for the credits they’re getting and minimizing the number left you have to take.”
Valley View High School has a block schedule that operates like college semesters so students are able to have an open first or last period of the day to spend in a college classroom, he said. High school guidance counselors work with the students to identify which classes and programs work for them and their future and help them enroll.
“We find that having our students on the college campuses is important. We want them to be immersed in a college experience,” said Lori Kelley, Valley View High School guidance counselor.
Students are able to lessen their class load in college because of dual enrollment, she added.
Dual enrollment benefits high school students on a personal, professional and practical level, said Rebekah Bernard, University of Scranton Information and Technology Specialist for Admissions and Enrollment.
Students have new and advanced academic experiences which increases their confidence, it lets them try out majors and courses they might pursue after high school graduation and it gives students a discounted head start on their degree, she said.
They are also able to double or triple major once in college, said Bernard.
The University of Scranton works with 25 local high schools to offer courses even if their schools do not. Students who have finished their sophomore year and have a good GPA are eligible to take classes at the university, said Bernard.
The high schoolers are in class with their college peers who often times, along with the professors, do not know they aren’t technically college students, she said.
Valley View senior Lauren Walsh wants to attend Marywood University for early childhood education next year. She is enrolled in an English and Retoric Course, her second class at the university in Scranton.
“It’s a really good opportunity to get the feel for what being on campus every day is like,” she said.
Her peer, senior Michael Sklareski, plans to study automotive technology at Johnson College next year and is already taking his required algebra general education course.
Dual enrollment gives him a head start on the feeling and experience of college, he said.
The students and their families are responsible for paying for the courses and, at Valley View, are expected to pass the college class.
Boccella said the students by and large do really well and have a great experience.
“I’m very proud of our dual enrollment numbers,” he said. “Among other things, it shows that we have a great number of students who are academically and socially/emotionally capable of handling collegiate-level coursework while in high school.”
Across the county
Local school districts approved agreements with local colleges to receive often transferable credits for passing certain high school classes.
Students can earn up to 31 dual enrollment credits through teachers at Riverside, said Superintendent Paul Brennan. While the courses are already discounted, Riverside works with donors and nonprofit organizations like the Scranton Area Foundation to provide free credits, he said.
“If we can remove some financial barriers, get our kids to dream a little bigger and walk together toward the light at the end of the tunnel, everyone wins,” he said.
Abington Heights Superintendent Michael Mahon, Ph.D., estimates that the district is approaching 100 students enrolled in dual enrollment courses.
The district worked with Lackawanna to align classes offered at Abington with the college’s courses.
Mid Valley is also growing its dual enrollment offerings, said Superintendent Patrick Sheehan.
The district is partnering with Johnson College to offer a technical mathematics course, is part of LevelUP Lackawanna and recently met with Penn State Scranton.
“Some of our students are leaving with a semester worth or more of credits,” Sheehan said.
Twenty one students out of a graduating class of 50 leave Old Forge High School to take courses, said Principal Christopher Gatto.
“College is a completely different animal than high school and for them to get that taste will still being in high school gives them a leg up,” he said.