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.”
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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.
St. Francis University in Loretto has grown its College in High School program dramatically in recent years.
“About three years ago, we did some promotional mailings to high schools, and we saw a major increase in numbers,” said Julie A. Barris, associate dean and director of adult degree and continuing studies at St. Francis.
The College in High School program grew from 17 schools in 2010 to 44. The program has the potential to keep growing but not at that rate, Barris said.
“It seems that every year we get a new school and then current schools who want to add new courses.”
St. Francis’ program, which has been in existence for more than 15 years, serves many schools in the Johnstown area and the credits are transferable.
Taking the courses in high school costs $55 a credit compared with the university’s traditional student tuition rate, which can cost thousands of dollars for up to 18 credits.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania has been working to increase the number of high school students to which it offers college classes.
The school had contracts with 20 high schools in January 2013 but now has about 44, said Kristen O’Hara, director of adult and continuing education at IUP.
Locally, IUP teaches students at Greater Johnstown, Westmont Hilltop, Turkeyfoot Valley and Berlin Brothersvalley.
About 125 high school students are enrolled in the courses, she said.
“We’re looking to increase enrollment,” she said.
IUP offers a 75 percent discount off the tuition for high school students.
The courses are taught only by the IUP faculty online or at IUP campuses in Indiana, Punxsutawney and Freeport, Armstrong County. That’s beneficial for the students because the teachers do not know they are teaching a high school student, O’Hara said.
Allegany College of Maryland has been a partner with high schools since 1992.
The college’s Early College program is a benefit to high school students as they begin their college careers while still in high school, said David M. Hinds, the college’s vice president of instructional affairs.
“Research clearly shows the link between programs like ours and students’ likelihood of successfully continuing their education after graduation,” Hinds said.
In the fall of 2013, the college, which is based in Cumberland, Maryland, and has campuses in Somerset and Everett, saw 464 students from 22 schools in Somerset, Bedford, Blair, Fulton and Franklin counties in Pennsylvania and Allegany County in Maryland.
ACM’s college courses are offered to high school students in a variety of formats. One way is having college faculty go to high schools. Another is having the courses be taught by qualified high school teachers. Students also can attend classes on one of the three college campuses or take classes online.
The college offers high school students a 50 percent reduction on tuition.
Barb Zuchelli, dean of Early College and Pennsylvania Curriculum Development, said students taking the Early College courses can transfer their credits to other schools.
“It’s a great opportunity for high school students to get a jump start on their college careers,” she said.
The University of Pittsburgh has been offering high school students the chance to earn college credits for nearly 35 years.
Each year, about 3,100 students from high schools across Pennsylvania and one from Ohio are instructed by high school teachers certified through Pitt’s College in High School Program, according to the university’s website.
The program’s course offerings include advanced classes, with the cost for students being just $225 for most courses.
Financial assistance, provided by Pitt and individual donors is often available for students in need.
Pitt credits are transferable, so even if the students don’t enroll at Pitt, their credits will count at other institutions.
The dual-enrollment program at Mount Aloysius College has taken off in the past eight years and now serves about 60 high schools within a 75-mile radius of the Cresson campus, according to Frank Crouse, the school’s vice president of enrollment management.
He credits the 52 percent increase in enrollment the past three years to the program’s coordinator.
“I think we have an outstanding coordinator for the dual-enrollment program in Jules Dill,” Crouse said.
Dill is a former educator for Central Cambria High School and knows the expectations of high school administrators and college-bound students, Crouse said.
Mount Aloysius’ courses are developed by the college’s professors and taught by high school teachers. Tuition is $50 a credit for high school students, substantially less than it would be for traditional college students.
Frank Sojak is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/FrankNews10.