ETA for college is earlier for some

ETA for college is earlier for some

CHAMPAIGN — It's safe to say not every high school student is as motivated as Karsyn Bryant.

The Mahomet-Seymour High School sophomore, who holds down two part-time jobs, will begin taking courses at Parkland College this semester in pursuit of an ambitious goal: earning her high school diploma and associate's degree at the same time.

High school is "really slow-paced, and I learn really fast," said Bryant, who hopes to attend law school. "I have a lot of free time, and I'd rather not spend the next six or seven years in college after high school. I figured I might as well get a two-year head start on it."

Bryant is the first student to enroll in a new Parkland College program designed to help students complete their college general-education coursework before they leave high school.

Starting next fall, the Early Transfer Academy will offer courses in the early morning and late afternoon so students can take courses such as psychology, history or sociology, in many cases earning both high school and college credit.

Students who complete the program will be able to shave a year or more off of their collegiate careers, and be more prepared for college, said Nancy Sutton, dean of Parkland's division of arts and sciences.

An informational session for interested students and parents is scheduled for ETA 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at Parkland College's Student Union, Room U140.

Bryant is getting a jump-start by taking courses this spring and summer, and will load up even more once she gets through the gen-ed requirements.

"She puts her mind to something and she just goes," said her mom, Mahomet-Seymour High School Spanish teacher Jenna Bryant.

Students already have several ways to earn college credit through Parkland while in high school, and about 1,000 choose to each semester. The most popular option? Dual-credit courses, usually offered at high schools, that earn both high school and college credit. Students can also take dual-enrollment classes, which earn college credit only, or attend Parkland classes outside of their high school schedule.

What they don't get is a structured program that helps them make the most of those credits and learn how to succeed in college, Sutton said.

Some students end up dropping out of college because they're not ready for the "culture shock" and personal responsibility required for campus life — no "do-overs" for poor grades or late assignments, she said.

With the Early Transfer Academy, students will come to the Parkland campus to take classes, so they get the feel of a college environment. They'll learn how to manage their time and work with a college curriculum.

For the first year, they'll be with other high school students enrolled in the Early Transfer Academy. But during the second year, they'll mix into courses with other Parkland students, Sutton said.

"When they graduate from high school, whether they come into Parkland or another institution, they'll be more prepared to be successful in college," she said.

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Lisa Lyne, director of Parkland's dual-credit program, said one of the biggest benefits is the "pathway" offered by the Early Transfer Academy. Current students often piecemeal dual-credit courses, but not in an organized way, she said.

Parkland will be able to provide students with a certificate once they complete the program, showing that they've fulfilled the state's General Education Curriculum Requirements.

The general education courses are accepted by all four-year public universities in Illinois and some private schools, Sutton said.

Other private colleges and out-of-state schools may also accept the courses but make those decisions on an individual basis, Sutton said.

"We have good transfer rates with private institutions as well. It's just that there's no guarantee," she said.

High schools will decide whether the general education classes will fulfill high school requirements, Lyne said.

For schools that agree to offer dual-credit, students will be able to take the classes at Parkland in the first part of their school day, from 8 to 9:15 a.m. Monday through Friday. Some schools already do that for existing dual-credit courses, she said.

For high schools that aren't interested in providing dual credit or allowing their students to leave campus, Parkland will offer the after-school option, from 4 to 5:15 p.m.

Students will take three classes each semester — a Monday/Wednesday class, a Tuesday/Thursday class and a Friday "hybrid" that will be partially online, so students get used to the "self-motivation" required, she said.

Participants can earn up to 38 credits, or a little over a year's worth of college courses.

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The new initiative is also an effort to reach out to home-schooled students, Sutton said.

Lyne said students and parents don't always fully understand their dual-credit options in high school, and Parkland hopes to improve outreach with counselors and families with the rollout of the new program.

Students have to weigh whether to take dual-credit classes or rigorous Advanced Placement courses, which can lead to college credit if students maintain a high grade and pass an AP exam.

"A lot of the institutions may not do as thorough of a job as we would like" in explaining the various options and what's needed for college, Sutton said.

Principals and superintendents in Parkland's district are mostly supportive of the Early Transfer Academy, though it's not unanimous, Sutton said. Some high school administrators worry about students missing other high school classes, or don't want to give college credit for a course that's already offered at their school. Transportation is also an issue, and administrators say some students might not be able to afford the classes.

Students have to pay Parkland's regular tuition and fees to participate, although students who plan to attend more expensive four-year colleges will save money by taking general education classes through Parkland, Sutton said.

"There are always a few people who feel that high school students should be allowed to be high school students, and that the additional pressure put on a student by asking them to take college courses is maybe unnecessary and may prevent them from enjoying high school," Sutton said.

That's a valid debate, she said, but the program is merely offering students the option.

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Students must meet certain academic requirements to participate, and they have to meet with a school counselor to talk about their schedule and dual-credit opportunities, Parkland officials said.

If they're ready, it makes sense to help them "learn how to be a successful college student before they actually leave high school and start out on their own," Sutton said, noting that other community colleges already offer similar programs.

Terri Rein, counselor at St. Joseph-Ogden High School, thinks the program will be helpful and popular — with the right students. The school already offers dual-credit classes, and she expects three to five seniors and a similar number of juniors to take part next fall.

They'll be taking three college courses on top of a rigorous high school curriculum, plus extracurricular activities, she said.

"It definitely has to be the right kid who has got it going on and can handle all of that," she said. "There's a load, cost-wise. But if you're wanting to get ahead in the college ballgame, absolutely."

Bryant, who turns 16 on Monday, said her dad was worried about the academic load, but her mom had no objections.

Jenna Bryant said her daughter has always been wise beyond her years and does well in school.

The program isn't for every student, she said, "but I think it's a really great option for some students. Some just are ready to move on and they don't want to take that AP track, but they're ready to take on the responsibilities of college."

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