Atlantic Cape Community College is growing its reach into local high schools with the signing of four new agreements for dual-enrollment programs that will allow students to graduate with an associate’s degree.
This fall, the Early College High School program expanded from Pleasantville, where it debuted in fall 2018 with the George Washington Carver Foundation, to Greater Egg Harbor Regional’s three local high schools and Middle Township High School. Next year, the college will start similar programs at Ocean City, Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic City and Chartertech high schools.
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“We’re just super excited because like any other business out there you have to conform to the demands of your community, and I think this is just another way to solidify relationships and exposure on the high school level. And if you can save some money doing it, then that’s not bad,” Atlantic Cape spokeswoman Laura Batchelor said.
Early College High School is a national initiative started by Bill and Melinda Gates and builds on the growing popularity in high schools of offering dual-enrollment options for students interested in earning college degrees. Many local high schools already offer programs for students to earn college credit with local colleges including Rowan and Stockton universities.
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Batchelor said the financial burden of college loans on students after they complete their degrees was a big reason Atlantic Cape wanted to offer such an opportunity locally. She said the credits the students earn through Early College are completely transferable and that not all students have to come out of the program with an associate’s, but they have the opportunity to get a head start toward their degree at about a fraction of the price.
“Each high school is a little different in terms of pricing, but you save substantially over what you would pay as an incoming freshman into Atlantic Cape,” she said.
National research also suggests students who take dual-enrollment courses in high school are more likely to go on to college and obtain a post-secondary degree.
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“Given how important higher education is for upward mobility in our two counties, we wanted to make sure that if someone is interested in higher education, and this is the way they want to go, we want to make it as easy for them as possible,” Batchelor said. “There’s no downside just taking a couple of credits, that just helps you get where you want to go faster.”
Each program at each school is individually designed, with some starting as young as middle school and others halfway through high school. The programs offer different career pathways, too, from health care to teaching to engineering.
Middle Township Superintendent David Salvo said the program there begins in junior year due to the difficulty of the classes and the course load.
“From a student perspective, all these students, they’re phenomenal, not only academically, but they’re also involved in many clubs and work, so for them time is a challenge, but they seem to rise to the occasion,” Salvo said.
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Greater Egg Superintendent John Keenan said the Early College program at Oakcrest, Cedar Creek and Absegami high schools is unique because it allows students to receive an associate’s degree in general studies.
“This is the result of four years of hard work to make this happen for our students. Students and parents have responded so well and with great enthusiasm,” Keenan said.
He said 531 students are enrolled in Atlantic Cape courses toward the dual-degree.
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Ocean City Superintendent Kathy Taylor said the new agreement gives students the option to sample courses of interest before committing to a career path.
“Expanding this stepping stone to receive college credit and now an associate’s degree will allow our students the freedom to explore the concept of college and collegiate-level academia as well as save on college tuition costs,” Taylor said.
The expansion of Early College offerings also highlights the growing role community colleges are playing in local high schools, superintendents said.
“High schools and community colleges, they’re intertwined now. Whether it’s dual credit or concurrent classes, even extracurricular activities, especially if you have the community college in your backyard, you’d be foolish not to take advantage of the resources,” Salvo said.