Select Dist. 300 students to get free full year of college

Unique partnership will have high school seniors taking ECC classes early

 
 
Posted1/21/2016 5:33 AM
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  • Forensics instructor Mike Smith shows a mock crime scene to dual-credit high school students taking part in a program through Harper College in Palatine to earn 15 college credits before graduating high school. Community Unit District 300 is launching a new program this fall with Elgin Community College allowing a select group of high school seniors the opportunity to take a full year of college courses before they graduate.

      Forensics instructor Mike Smith shows a mock crime scene to dual-credit high school students taking part in a program through Harper College in Palatine to earn 15 college credits before graduating high school. Community Unit District 300 is launching a new program this fall with Elgin Community College allowing a select group of high school seniors the opportunity to take a full year of college courses before they graduate. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer, Jan. 2015

Getting the first year of college paid for is a dream for many parents.

Community Unit District 300 will make that dream come true next school year for a select group of high school seniors.

The district is partnering with Elgin Community College on an Accelerate College program. The first of its kind in the suburbs, the program will allow eligible high school seniors the ability to take a full year of college classes toward a two-year associate degree -- completing roughly half the required credits for a 60-hour program -- in arts, science and applied science.

Upon graduation from high school, District 300 students can choose to complete their associate's program at ECC or transfer those college credits to any Illinois college or university, said Ben Churchill, district chief academic officer.

"It's a real jump-start on a college education for those students who want to do a two-year degree. They are halfway done," Churchill said.

"That's going to be a significant cost savings to families," he said. "The courses that we will allow them to take in this program are all courses that should be accepted at four-year colleges and universities as transfer courses."

Tuition at public universities in Illinois can range from $25,000 to $50,000.

District 300 will cover the cost of tuition, and students will be responsible for the cost of books and transportation.

No other suburban school district has a similar dual-credit program offering a full year of college courses tuition-free.

Dual-credit classes increase the likelihood of students enrolling in a four-year institution and having higher grade-point averages, according to a study by the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.

Other programs

For years, school districts have offered students career and technical courses, such as forensic science, fire science, criminal justice, culinary arts, computer repair, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning taught at either the community colleges or at their high schools.

District 300 now has 150 high school seniors enrolled in ECC's Middle College and Tech Prep programs as part-time students.

In the Northwest suburbs, Harper College in Palatine this year began offering students from three Cook County school districts the opportunity to earn a full semester of college credit.

The Northwest Education Consortium -- comprising Harper College, Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Barrington Area Unit District 220 -- launched the Power of 15 initiative to give students added incentive to attend and stay in college longer. Seniors at all 12 high schools within those districts can take core courses -- English, math, speech, physical science and art -- through Harper's curriculum but taught by high school teachers in students' regular classrooms.

District 211 offers more than 50 dual-credit classes and has agreements with four colleges, said Lisa Small, associate superintendent for instruction.

"We've enhanced the courses that we offer and are trying to get students to take 15 credit hours before they graduate," Small said. "They can earn as many hours as they can fit into their high school schedule."

The school week

In District 300's program, students would take a full day of classes Monday through Thursday at ECC -- 12 to 16 credit hours per semester. They would spend Fridays at their home schools for study sessions, filling out college and scholarship applications, peer mentoring, attending workshops and seminars, and meeting with counselors for course advice and progress checks.

To qualify for the program, students must be completely college-ready and pass ECC's placement test in reading, writing and math.

"We are going to do some targeted recruitment," Churchill said. "We have a population of students who are academically ready for the rigor of college. ... We will specifically target this group of students who are on track to graduate early so that we can keep them (engaged) in their senior year with the district."

While officials aim to enroll 30 students into the program next year, the number of slots available might increase if there is demand. Ultimately, the goal is to expand the program to include juniors and for students to be able to earn an associate degree when they graduate high school.

"For some students, that first-year transition to college and university is very tough," Superintendent Fred Heid said. "It helps address (students) needing remedial courses when they attend community college. This is a great opportunity for us to expose them to the college culture and to ensure we have enough safety nets and supports in place to help them."

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