Harper teams with University of Illinois' engineering school

Northwest suburban high schools are teeming with bright scientific minds, so a program that guarantees a spot in one of the nation's most prestigious engineering schools while saving tens of thousands of dollars is bound to garner some interest.

That's what officials at Harper College in Palatine are hoping for, at least, with the launch of an exclusive partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Engineering.

"Given all the news stories in recent years about how competitive University of Illinois engineering has become, it's wonderful that this can open up an avenue in terms of accessibility for our students," Harper Provost Judy Marwick said.

Beginning this fall, incoming Harper students selected for the Engineering Pathways program will complete specific core science, math and English courses and then transfer to the U. of I. College of Engineering, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News World and Report.

While at Harper, Pathways students must maintain a 3.3 GPA in their major, a 3.2 GPA overall and finish the program within three years. It's recommended they earn an Associate in Engineering Science degree.

A committee made up of Harper faculty, administrators and a U. of I. engineering counselor will select an undetermined number of students for admission to the Pathways program. Currently, Harper estimates about 15 students transfer into the university's college of engineering each year.

"The guarantee makes this unique and very exciting," Marwick said. "It's another pathway to a really high quality degree."

Admission will be competitive to ensure the students accepted are the most likely to succeed. They'll have monthly meetings with advisers from both schools.

Joe Waranyuwat, academic adviser at the U. of I. College of Engineering, said that's a significant piece that shouldn't be overlooked.

"Students will be able to make sure they're on track and have emotional support as they take on this endeavor," Waranyuwat said.

Another advantage will be the savings. Harper officials said students attending Harper for two years before transferring will spend $17,000 less on tuition. The savings jump to about $50,000 when figuring in room, board and other costs.

Waranyuwat said the college sought out Harper because of its long-standing relationship and reputable engineering program. Pathways was modeled after a similar partnership U. of I. started about five years ago with Champaign's Parkland College to create a pipeline for transfer students across several fields of study.

"We want to reach out to community colleges to help increase access to higher education," Waranyuwat said. "There are some excellent and qualified students who can't afford to go to a four-year institution right out of high school."

He said the engineering college is exploring similar partnerships at a few other community colleges in the state.

In addition to the standard Harper application, prospective students must complete a Pathways application that looks at high school academic performance, ACT scores, Harper placement test scores, a personal statement and other relevant experiences.

Harper Chair of Engineering Deborah Damcott said students who are low-income, first-generation, female or from underrepresented ethnic groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

Information sessions will be held at the Spring 2012 Open House from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, March 10, at Harper's Wojcik Conference Center, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine. Applications are due April 1.

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