The number of local students taking college courses while still in high school seems to be increasing each year.
Several colleges and universities in the region offer college-level courses to the area’s high school students.
Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, based in Cambria County, offers college programs throughout the western part of Pennsylvania, said Melissa Murray, dean of the school partnerships program at Penn Highlands.
The number of students involved in the college’s Accelerated College Education program (ACE) can range between 1,100 and 1,700.
The program, which began in 2004 with seven high schools and had a total of 275 students, now includes 58 high schools from counties as far west as Allegheny and as far north as McKean, Murray said.
And it is still growing.
Most schools in the Johnstown region take part in the program.
“We want to promote a ‘college-giving culture’ for our high school students,” Murray said. “We want to prepare them for the future so that they are prepared for employment.
“They enroll in Pennsylvania Highlands courses at high school and are taught by their high school instructors who have been approved to teach our curriculum.”
The students usually do well in the college courses, which can provide the confidence to continue their college education, Murray said.
The college courses taken by high school students are not as intensive, with the content spread out over the course of a school year compared with the 15 weeks the class would encompass on the college campus.
Penn Highlands tailors its program to meet the needs of high school students.
“We’re really here to serve the community,” Murray said. “We do that by listening to what the community needs and offering programs to meet that need.”
One such initiative is an enhanced version of ACE. In the Associate in High School program, high school students can graduate with an associate degree. Penn Highlands began offering it after being approached by officials from school districts.
High school students can earn the degree through a combination of enrolling in the ACE program at their high school and either attending classes at the Richland Township campus of Penn Highlands or enrolling in online courses, Murray said.
More than 100 students from seven school districts in the Johnstown area are participating in the Associate in High School program this year.