Students can receive an associate degree while completing their high school diploma.
Thomas College and Maranacook Community High School have been collaborating on dual-enrollment courses for years, but last year, officials at both schools began to explore ways to expand the opportunities available to high-achieving high school students.
The schools on Wednesday announced a partnership to provide a pathway to an associate in arts degree at Thomas College. Students enrolled in the Pathways Program can pursue their associate degree while completing their high school diploma.
According to a news release, the program, which is expected to start in June, consists of a one-week, intensive format in the summer, online courses taught by Thomas College faculty members and dual enrollment courses delivered by Maranacook teachers who meet Thomas College requirements for appointment as adjunct instructors.
“Learning can take place in any location, and we wanted to be able to acknowledge that and say that here’s a pathway to breaking down the barrier that artificially divides high school and college-level work,” said Thomas Edwards, provost of Thomas College.
Conway said 179 students — or 42 percent of the student body — are taking dual enrollment courses this semester at Maranacook. Discussions about the new program began in late 2014, and it was approved officially in early December.
Junior Abigail Despres said she takes dual enrollment classes in part because “I now know that what I’m learning is going to have a direct impact on what path I take through college.
“I’ve always been a person who likes to get ahead of the game, so the idea of getting a jump on college is really appealing,” Despres said in an email from Thomas College spokesperson MacKenzie Riley. “It’s a way for me to learn in a different way than I have before, challenge myself and save time and money.”
Edwards hopes to have 15 students enrolled at the program’s launch and expects that demand will be fairly high.
“We’ve already had parents of incoming freshmen and students asking for more information,” Edwards said. “We believe that once the program is up and running, we may see higher demand.”
Aside from the benefit of completing a two-year degree while still in high school, there is a huge financial component to the program. In Riley’s email, junior Leah Pouliot said she is planning to apply to the program not only to show her perseverance, but also because it provides an opportunity to save money on expensive college classes.
Conway estimates the program would save participating families more than $300,000 combined in tuition costs because students essentially are getting their first two years of college free and in a supportive environment different from that of a college campus.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “(Students) are taking college courses while at home, where they are supported by their families and other people that are there to help them succeed, like counselors and advisers.”
Edwards said the credits will be equal to credits earned while taking regular courses at Thomas College, which means they would be transferable to any other institution. But he hopes that the students see his college as a real option when they complete the program.
“We think that the ability to assemble college credits at little to no cost makes the four-year degree from Thomas College much more accessible,” Edwards said. “We have been focused for a long time on providing access to education for Maine students, and this is a huge financial boost for families who see a huge financial barrier to higher education.”
Edwards is excited about the opportunity to enhance the lives of the students in the program. He said they “aren’t just transforming the students’ life.
“When a student walks across the stage with a diploma from Thomas College, their access to a better job with better pay is enhanced, which helps their entire family,” he said.
The news release said that in order to qualify for the program, students must be juniors or seniors with a high school grade point average of 3.0 or better, must have demonstrated capacity for college work and must have a recommendation from the high school guidance counselor.
by Jason Pafundi — 621-5663