Getting a Headstart

What to know and consider about the newly offered Early College Program

by Ella Sulwer, Social Media Manager

As classes are being selected for next school year, the school district opened a new option to students who are looking to receive college credit while still in high school. The new opportunity, called the Early College Program (ECP) allows students to attend St. Charles Community College (SCC) while still receiving credit towards graduation and taking a few classes at either High or West.

“So a couple other districts like Rockwood, Francis Howell, and Orchard Farm have also taken this under their wing and with what we’ve wanted to do we’ve taken a couple years to really make sure we are doing this the right way for our students and making sure we have all of the I’s dotted T’s crossed so that when you do take advantage of it, it is pretty seamless,” Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for St. Charles School District Jessica Evans said. “It was a new program in other districts so we kind of watched and observed how they succeeded and areas where they had challenges, so we’ve learned from their experiences too.” 

Now that this program is being added as an option for students there are three ways to gain college credit while attending high school. The first being enrolling in Advanced Placement courses, which through College Board, students can pay to take an AP exam in the spring. Depending on their score, they could gain college credit from this. The other program offered is  dual credit.

“We do dual credit through our English department, math department, and our history department,” Evans said. “We are moving that to Missouri Southern University and we do an early college option because it’s another way for our students to take an opportunity of getting some college classes that we cannot necessarily offer here at the highschool level.”

The main difference between dual credit and the ECP would be that dual credit is offered at the high school itself and there are limited options as to what courses are available, because teachers at the school have to be eligible to teach the classes. So with this specific ECP offered in the St. Charles School District students would attend the first and second block classes at the high school itself then continue on to their schedule at SCC’s campus. 

“Depending on the district, some students will not go to high school at all and only come to us, other districts will do both,” Kathy Brockgreitens, Assistant Vice President for College Transitions and Interim Registrar for St. Charles Community College, said, “so it just depends on the district and the student, but some students will not attend high school at all their junior and senior year.” 

The schedule for students who are enrolled in the ECP will vary by what classes they take at SCC, but they will have to make sure they are meeting graduation requirements. 

“If students are thinking about this at the younger age level, they really need to be looking into making sure they are getting their graduation requirements out of the way,” Lead Counselor  Julie Basler said. “Some of the things they would not be able to take at the college and earn credit back for – like Personal Finance, or like PE.”

Example of what a student’s schedule might look like through the ECP

As far as activities go those involved in sports have to meet the requirements to remain eligible to participate. Students must pass the two classes they take in the high school as well as the 12 credit hours at SCC each semester. 

“Our students will definitely be able to be involved in clubs and sports and we have a very specific schedule to allow for that and that is the beauty of it,” Evans said, “that our students get to take advantage of the Early College Program while still being involved in high school itself.”

 The classes at SCC count towards high school credit as well as college credit, but the credit transfers over into high school at different rates and it would be important to see a counselor about what a student might need to graduate if they are considering the program. It would be important to make sure that they are getting the right amounts of credits from the program to make sure they won’t fall short due to the credits amounting differently.

Unit of credits received from classes at SCC

  

“We always tell students that if you know where you want to go to school after high school… it’s always good to check with the four year university where they are planning on attending just to make certain that classes transfer,” Brockgreitens said. “Now this being said, we do not have issues with our courses transfering especially in the state of Missouri because we try to enroll students in courses within the Core42 so that those are guaranteed to transfer.”

The Core42 are classes offered at SCC that have MOTR (Missouri Transfer) numbers which allow them to be transferred to any state school in Missouri. For a complete list of these classes click here to access more information regarding the ECP. Other than transferable credit, the cost is a part of the decision when choosing to take this path.

 “If you’re A+ eligible and if you’re taking it as a senior, you’re paying for all of those courses out of pocket instead of being able to use those A+ funds as a freshman so it’s something to think about,” Basler said. 

The cost per credit hour is $50, which can save students a lot of money if they are trying to go to a four year school after high school. A+ eligible students will have to decide if it is worth it or should they wait and go to the two years of community college for free after graduating.  

“It’s still a great idea to get A+ eligibility because some students are going to want to do two years at a community college first so that second year A+  would cover it,” Basler said. 

The decision between waiting and using the funds from A + or going into the ECP and paying for that year could depend on how far a student wants to take their education or just their personal decision. For those who do decide this program is the right fit for them, they typically would have to resort to placement testing before enrolling in specific math and English courses, but for now there is no testing due to COVID-19 and until SCC is back on campus full time, testing most likely will not resume. 

“For placement for math we are using high school GPA and math ACT and if a student doesn’t have the math ACT which a lot of times high school juniors may not yet have it, we can look at the course work they completed and the grades they received to be able to make a determination by that and English placement is done by GPA,” Brockgreitens said.

Altogether the ECP opens plentiful opportunities to students, but depending on the person it might not be the best fit. 

“I think that students really need to decide as a very individual decision, so if you feel as if you are ready to take on that very independent step of going to college and being on a college campus,” Evans said, “or if you’re more of a student that is wanting to relax a little more in a comfortable setting of your home high school and this is where I feel the most comfortable and I am succeeding the most then that is the best place for the student.”

When considering the ways to gain college credit, if the ECP seems like too much and not a good path there still are those other two options offered at the high school. While taking classes at SCC will be an academic focus, students will still have to be in the college campus environment which could be something they are looking for or not really what they are ready for yet.  

“We have had students who have started the program and realized they missed high school,” Brockgreitens said. “So they might have come to us one semester and said no I want to go back to high school second semester and be with my friends and have that high school experience that they are kind of missing out on.”

Since the program is a newer addition to a lot of districts and now St. Charles, there is still a little bit of trial and error in the works, but this program could bring many benefits and options for those wanting to continue their education. 

“It’s new to us as counselors so we are going to kind of go through some bumps in the road in learning about it as well,” Basler said, “but I think it is a great opportunity for some, because you’re going to be a college student so it’s a lot, but if you’re ready for that step it’s a great opportunity.

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