This fall, the Accelerated College program at Lone Star College-Montgomery will begin its second year of partnership with Oak Ridge High School (ORHS) and third year of partnership with Willis High School (WHS) to offer students a head start on college. A big head start.
“The intent of the program is to help students become ‘core complete’ by the time they graduate high school, with an enhanced goal of helping them earn an associate degree if that’s what the student wants,” said Jen Roberts, program manger for school partnerships at LSC-Montgomery. “The Lone Star College System core curriculum consists of 42 college credit hours, commonly referred to as ‘the basics.’ They are the base courses needed for a degree at any public college or university in Texas.”
During the 2008-2009 school year, when the Accelerated College program was initially launched, about 60 students were enrolled between the two high schools. Now, the numbers have doubled with over 125 students enrolled for the 2009-2010 school year.
“The program is beginning to change the community,” said Roberts. “Students and parents are beginning to see college as an obtainable, affordable goal, and educators are assisting students as they push ahead in their education.”
Tim Patton, principal at WHS, agreed.
“This program is a bridge in this community, connecting higher education with students whose family’s history may not include college as a reachable goal,” said Patton. “The program opens a world in their lives that otherwise might not be achievable.”
Even though the program is structured slightly different at each high school, both permit students to take three or four college courses per semester, some of which are for college credit only–others which count for both high school and college credit. Students are able to complete classes at either their high school or at LSC-Montgomery.
Rising to Their Academic Potential
Although similar to the conventional dual credit program, where students take one or two college courses per semester, Accelerated College is geared for students who want to capitalize on their high school years in order to complete a significant number of transferable college credits.
“Students who participate in Accelerated College are often involved in their schools and their communities,” explained Roberts. “These courses are often in addition to their regular high school classes and extracurricular activities. It’s a huge time commitment for students.”
But according to Michelle Brenckman, it’s a time commitment well worth the effort. Brenckman’s daughter Andrea, or “Ande,” graduated from Willis High School in June 2009 with 31 hours of college credit.
“Initially, I was against Ande’s involvement in the program because she was a top athlete on two varsity sports teams and working part time,” said Brenckman. “After her first semester, however, I was sold on the program’s benefits and the faculty who taught the courses.”
Brenckman said being a part of the program–even while involved in other school activities–allowed her daughter to realize her full potential.
“The really nice thing about Ande being enrolled in the college courses with LSC-Montgomery was the fact that she was challenged to rise to her potential. She knew she could succeed in college after high school because she was successful in her college courses during high school.”
Kim Sprayberry, associate principal of curriculum and instruction at WHS, assisted Ande, as well as other Accelerated College students throughout the school year.
“Sometimes, high school students can be intimidated by the college campus and the curriculum, but this program shows them that they can do it,” said Sprayberry. “It opens the door for them to be successful on their college campus once they graduate from high school.”
To be a part of the program, students are required to meet the admission requirements of LSC-Montgomery, as well as complete the Accelerated College admissions application packet at their high school. Selection committees at each campus review the applications, which include a parent and student statement, two teacher recommendations, and a counselor recommendation, in order to select students for the program.
Easing the Financial Burden
For most students involved in the program, the financial savings is one of the biggest benefits.
“One of the main reasons I chose to participate in the program was because it was cheaper,” said Jacob Holden, a student at ORHS. Holden will begin his senior year and second year in the program in the fall. His plan is to graduate high school in 2010 with approximately 34 college credit hours.
“I’m getting ahead–both academically and financially–because after high school, I don’t have to worry about taking my basic college courses,” said Holden.
Suzanne Calhoun, lead counselor at ORHS, said with the high cost of post-secondary education, some students might not be able to afford to attend college following high school.
“The Accelerated College program enables students to gain college credits at a reduced fee, saving them and their families a lot of money,” said Calhoun. “It is my hope that students who might not be able to afford college will realize that, in fact, they can, and they will chose to do so.”
For all students involved in the program during the 2009-2010 school year, LSC-Montgomery has completely waived 100 percent of the tuition. Students are only required to pay the necessary fees, which according to Roberts are about $45 for the first, three-hour class and $11 for each additional three-hour class.
“Students can potentially earn an entire associate’s degree for around $800,” said Roberts. “Students with any sort of financial barrier now have an increased opportunity to attend college.”
Catering to Student’s Needs
Although each high school runs their own Accelerated College program, LSC-Montgomery works closely with each campus to make sure students are on a pathway to success. For the upcoming school year, LSC-Montgomery has hired a part-time college communications advisor, to be available to meet with students at their own high school campus.
“We want to provide close educational planning to help students make the best decisions regarding their academic goals,” said Roberts. “We don’t want any student to waste their time or money on a class not suited for their targeted college or career path.”
Roberts also said the Accelerated College program works closely with departments within LSC-Montgomery to find and fulfill student’s needs, including manipulating class start and end times to accommodate students, as happened this summer.
“Most Accelerated College students take Economics 2301 at the LSC-Montgomery campus during the summer semester,” explained Roberts. “But, the first summer class session started at LSC-Montgomery before the school year ended at WHS, and a majority of the students needing to complete the class have extracurricular activities that begin before the second summer class session ends.
“Beth Engel, department chair at LSC-Montgomery, created a delayed start Economics 2301 course for students coming from WHS to have the opportunity to take this core class and continue the program without interruption.”
Although Roberts said that, as a result of the Accelerated College program being offered, more students are requesting to take more than two courses per semester, the dual credit program is still a viable option for students seeking to complete college hours while in high school.
Through the dual credit program, Meagan Mittasch, who will begin her senior year at WHS this fall, will graduate in 2010 with 24 to 27 college credit hours.
“I take pride when people ask me what grade I am in, and I happily reply ‘I’m a senior in high school and have 15 hours of college…and counting!’” said Mittasch.
“I think every single high school student should take advantage of the offer LSC-Montgomery is providing. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a cheaper, faster, and more convenient way to complete college.”
For more information on the Accelerated College program or the dual credit classes offered, please contact an LSC-Montgomery College Connections Advisor at (936) 271-6172, or contact the counseling offices at either ORHS or WHS.
LSC-Montgomery is located at 3200 College Park Drive, one-half mile west of Interstate 45, between Conroe and The Woodlands. For more information about the college, call (936) 273-7000, or visit LoneStar.edu/montgomery.
Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including CyFair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. With over 51,000 students, it is the largest college system in the Houston area and the third largest community college district in Texas. To learn more, visit www.LoneStar.edu.