New program lets high school freshmen start college classes
Although the term “game-changer” is frequently overused, the administration at Northeastern Technical College and the Marlboro County School District believe they have a program that truly may be just that pivotal.
Called the Northeastern Young Scholars Program, this collaboration will allow Marlboro County High students to begin earning college credits as early as their freshman year.
“I am really excited for our community. This program has the potential to change everything in regards to how our kids view going to college. It will cost the school district nothing and raises the level of expectations of a majority of our high school students,” said Dr. Mark Bunch, NETC’s Dean of Workforce Development & Continuing Education, formerly the principal at Marlboro County High.
The basis of the program is the concept of dual credit classes. Students will take courses on the campus of Marlboro County High, taught by MCHS teachers but receive both high school and college credits for the course.
“In the past, dual credit or dual enrollment classes were only offered to juniors and seniors. The primary reason for this had to do with lottery scholarship money,” said Bunch.
“This expansion of that program is being funded by a generous donation by the Love Foundation, so it is geared exclusively for Marlboro County students to move into college classes earlier,” he said.
There are currently 20 ninth graders and 20 tenth graders who are in the first semester of the program. The freshmen are taking Computer 101, while the sophomores are taking an entry-level art class for the first semester.
After Christmas break, the students will swap classes, so that by the end of the year, they will have six credit-hours towards a college degree. Also, in the second semester, 40 more underclassmen students will be allowed to join the program.
Admission to the program is determined by the Marlboro County High staff. To be accepted, a ninth grade student has to have completed Algebra 1, English 1, with at least an 85 average in each, and have three references by a middle-school teacher, guidance counselor and principal.
“By teaching college-level courses in a high school setting, it allows instructors to slow down and teach students how to approach college work. Getting kids to realize that they can succeed in college is an important component of this program,” said Bunch.
When the students have completed this introductory year, a so-called “soft-start” to college, they will begin taking two or more dual-credit courses each semester. These classes can be paid for by state lottery scholarships.
After finishing their sophomore year, students and parents will meet with advisors and guidance counselors at both the high school and NETC to determine the path they want to pursue for the final two years in high school.
One direction focuses on technical classes that lead to an associates degree as soon as possible. They can complete their degree in a number of fields, from cosmetology to welding and then quickly join the workforce.
The other route is to aim the student to classes that will transfer to a four-year institution to complete a bachelors degree.
“One of the misunderstandings we have had with the program is that participation would cause students to exhaust their state lottery money. That isn’t the case because it is coming out of funds that are specific for two-year institutions,” said Bunch.
“You, of course, have to keep your GPA up to maintain your scholarship, but running out of lottery money won’t be an issue,” he said.
If a student takes all the classes offered through the dual credit program, they would finish with 36 hours of college credit. An associate’s degree requires 60 hours.
However, by taking some summer courses or night classes, it is very conceivable that a student could receive both their high school diploma and an associates degree on the same day.
“From a parent’s perspective, the best thing about the program is that it saves you a tremendous amount of money on college education. A student can get an associates degree almost for free, and a four-year degree will be practically cut by half,” said Bunch.
A better educated workforce will also be a boost to economic development efforts.
“Companies that come here will be able to find more young people with technical training, many with associates degrees. Our students will be able to find good-paying jobs and hopefully stay in the community,” he concluded.,