Henderson Co. district on verge of launching early college program for its high school students through community college; Union, Webster districts may follow

Gleaner, Henderson, April 14, 2017

Local high school kids could start doing college at same time

Erin Schmitt

Students from Henderson, Union and Webster counties could simultaneously earn a two-year associate's degree and a high school diploma in the near future.

As early as next school year, Henderson County Schools may introduce an early college program that would allow junior and senior year high school students to enroll in dual course work through Henderson Community College.

Union County Public Schools and Webster County Schools are also considering the program.

Students enrolled at Henderson County High or Henderson's Central Academy could take up to 15 credit hours at HCC during their junior or senior years, said Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Jo Swanson.

These students would attend the majority, if not all, of their classes on HCC's campus. Their coursework would count double toward their high school diploma and an associate degree in either arts or sciences.

Flexible schedules could be created for students who want to take some high school classes.

“That would probably be most attractive to band students or choir students or maybe even some students who are in the CTE pathway," said Swanson.

Students would need to demonstrate a strong work ethic, a great attendance record, a lack of discipline records and meet ACT and SAT benchmarks for entering college.

“We would like to target first-generation college students," said Swanson.

There's a limit on how many students can enroll once the program starts.

"We want to enter into this gently and wisely," said Swanson.

A maximum of 20 students from Henderson, Webster and Union counties could enroll in the program to start.

The early college program is also on the horizon for Union County Public School students.

"We will be meeting with Henderson Community College folks in May to work out the details," said Malinda Beauchamp, public information officer for UCPS. "We're very excited for our students to have this opportunity."

The school system has worked closely with HCC to increase its dual credit offerings in the last few years. There's been a large increase in Union students earning college credit, Beuchamp said. A portion of the endowment funds for the Braves2College scholarship program can be pay for dual credit classes.

Webster County Schools is in the "very early stages of conversation" about the early college program, said Rhonda Callaway, Webster's director of secondary education. She added district officials learned of the option on March 30.

"We are very excited about offering that opportunity for students, but we're still in the early stages," she said. "We're looking at the logistics like transportation and criteria for enrollment."

Public school systems across Kentucky have entered into similar partnerships with their local community colleges. Daviess County Schools is in the first year of the early college program.

Officials with Henderson County Schools and HCC have been pursuing this early college partnership since Kris Williams' first week as HCC president in 2011.

"So it's taken us a while, but we're there where we can roll out something this fall," said Williams.

There's an agreement in place that if a student is still enrolled in high school, that student may only be charged up to 1/3 of the per college credit hour cost, said Swanson. That would be $52 per college credit hour or $156 per three-hour course.

The four members on the Henderson County Board of Education backed the early college program during an informal poll taken at a board work session Tuesday. The school board's fifth seat is vacant, but should be filled soon once the Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner makes an appointment.

“I’m all for it," said school board member Sally Sugg. "I’ve watched several of these programs across the state flourish, especially the one in McCracken County. They’ve really done tremendous things down there.”

School board member Mike Waller questioned whether the school system could provide transportation. Students would either drive or have their parents transport them to HCC, said Swanson.

“I wouldn’t want to see a high potential candidate be left out because of lack of transportation," said Waller.

Superintendent Marganna Stanley said the committee working on the early college program will likely bring a policy change before the board at a later date.

Swanson said she would like to inform students before the last day of classes on May 18 if a change in policy is approved to get the early college program started.

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