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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Early College offers high school students an edge in higher education

Tina Forbes

Nashua Community College offers several in-roads for high school students looking for a college experience.

Running Start launched in 1999, offering college-level courses within local high schools. In 2009, eStart was created through a partnership with the Virtual Learning Academy to provide college-level courses online. ...

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Nashua Community College offers several in-roads for high school students looking for a college experience.

Running Start launched in 1999, offering college-level courses within local high schools. In 2009, eStart was created through a partnership with the Virtual Learning Academy to provide college-level courses online.

The programs give students the chance to take classes on a college campus from college professors, potentially earning high school and college credit simultaneously.

Susan Smith, an admission representative at NCC, had both her daughters take advantage of Early College before she started working at the college in February. One earned 60 credits during her junior and senior year and enrolled in a four year college as a junior. Smith had heard of Early College from another mother who was homeschooling her children.

“Early College is kind of a complement to Running Start,” Smith said. “It’s not for everyone because you need to be ready. You need independence and maturity ... nobody’s keeping track of you in college.”

She said the program was a hidden gem.

“I felt like it was a secret. I felt a responsibility to put what I know out into the community.”

Early College serves ambitious students in need of a different learning environment, or students who seek a more challenging curriculum, Smith said.

The student’s home district may or may not support dual enrollment with NCC. Smith said a student can enroll in NCC courses regardless, but to receive high school and college credits, the student would need to coordinate with their high school guidance counselors.

“I would hope the high school would allow them the choice for dual credit ... but if not, there are evening classes,” she said.

So far, local high schools have been receptive to the program as everyone has the same goal, she said. “They seem very excited for different opportunities. It helps the student be their best to graduate ... it’s to everyone’s advantage.”

Alternatively, students 16 or older can take the HiSet and become a college student early. Either way, students would take a placement test in math and English to help guide them toward the right placement.

Smith gave an example of an Early College
applicant. She met with a student Monday who will be a senior in high school this year. He’s interested in business, but his school doesn’t have the scope of programs he’d like to explore. He settled on a dual enrollment, taking courses at NCC that will count toward his high school diploma as well as college credit.

Smith said another reason students pursue the program is to make their
college applications stand out.
“Early College definitely makes you leap off the page to an admissions counselor,” she said. “What else proves you can do college work than actually doing college work?”

Smith said wants high school students to be aware of their choices and finances. Early College courses run about $200 per credit. Compare that to $750 per credit for in-state residents at UNH and $1,329 per credit for a private school such as Northeastern, and the financial appeal becomes clear.

The dual enrollment concept has been kicking around for some time, Smith said.

“It looks like it’s everywhere else in the country but here. I think we’re the last to get on the bus,” she said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation began an early college initiative for high school students years ago.

About 230 high schools are currently engaged in similar programs across the country, Smith said.

At NCC, students can take anywhere from one class to a full course load. “We’re small enough to work with each parents and student individually ... it’s shaped to each
student,” she said.

Early College at NCC was officially named this past February, but the opportunities have been in place for years.

“It’s always been a right for students to come here ... it just never had a name before,” Smith said, adding that 15 students participated last year.

Smith plans to work with local guidance counselors to schedule high school tours this fall to discuss opportunities at NCC.

She said there also will be a special evening at the college in the near future, and students can always schedule individual meetings and tours with staff.

Interested students or parents can contact Susan Smith at sasmith@ccsnh.edu, or 578-8923.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).