NEW PALESTINE — Imagine a student being able to earn a college degree, at a minimal cost, by the time they graduate high school.
It’s called the Early College program, and it is on the verge of becoming a reality for students at New Palestine High School.
The graduating class of 2020 has been targeted as the first class to take part in the program, aimed at providing higher learning opportunities to students while they are still in high school. Those students are currently in eighth grade.
Southern Hancock Schools has partnered with Vincennes University, and the two are in the final stages of ironing out full details of the program.
If approved by the district’s school board, the program will give students, who start high school in 2016, an opportunity to start taking college classes that will help them earn an associate degree by the time they graduate high school.
Superintendent Lisa Lantrip said the program is different than advanced placement and dual-credit programs already offered in schools.
“When the kids enroll in the early college program, they are in essence enrolling into college,” she said. “Students are going to graduate high school with a certificate or an (associate) degree.”
The program is already offered in a dozen school districts and at two career centers around the state. There are four additional districts set to join this fall, program officials said.
It would be the first program of its kind in Hancock County, Vincennes University officials said.
The Early College program is designed to give first generation students and those who never thought they would have an opportunity to go to a college the chance to earn a degree.
It won’t replace dual credit and advanced placement classes. District officials say the Early College program is a bold approach, but it’s also a great opportunity for students looking to get ahead.
The program allows students to pursue higher education at a lower cost than if they attended school after graduating high school, and that will be a powerful motivator for students, said Principal Keith Fessler.
“What it does is (it) compresses the time it takes to complete a high school diploma and the first two years of college,” Fessler said.
The cost to enroll in the program is minimal, district officials say.
For classes taught by high school teachers, the cost is $25 per credit hour; it increases to $75 when the class is taught by a university adjunct.
Students who enrolled in the free and reduced lunch programs won’t be required to pay anything to participate in the program.
Program officials estimate it will cost between $2,400 and $3,200 for students to earn the degree through the early college program.
That’s a significant cost savings compared to earning an associate degree at a college, Fessler said. At IUPUI, an associate degree costs students about $17,500 before books and lodging, according to data from officials.
At Purdue University, that cost is estimated at $19,800 to $46,000, not including room and board.
New Palestine teachers will instruct the courses. Those staff members are accredited and are required to have a master’s degree in the subject they’ll teach.
School officials say while some students might be targeted for the program, it could help all students graduate college early.
“The reality in Indiana is that statistics show that nearly 55 percent of college students don’t graduate until after six years,” Fessler said. “This would give them a head start.”
State statistics associated with the Early College program show that 59 percent of Early College graduates earn an associate degree, while 100 percent enroll in either a four or two year college or technical program.
Vincennes University officials say they’re ready to work with New Palestine High School to get the program rolling.
“Our focus is to work with those school districts that are prepared and ready to work with us,” said Duane Chattin, director of public information at Vincennes University. “We will give that academic and administrative support to make sure the curriculum is meeting all the objectives.”
The Early College program will give students a early jump to earning a college degree. School officials say the benefits to the program are as follows:
-Makes higher education viable for families, particularly low income and first generation students.
-Provides targeted support for students.
-Deceases time to completion, accelerating entry into the workforce.
-Brings rigor and purpose back to senior year.
-100 percent of Early College graduates enroll in a four- or two-year college or a technical program as compared to 49 percent of total Indiana high school graduates.