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College Comes to Four Local High Schools


West Windsor, N.J. – For seniors at four local high schools, college is coming to them.  According to Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Admissions and Outreach Director Savita Bambhrolia, MCCC’s dual enrollment courses for high school students are not new, but bringing the curriculum to the high schools as part of the regular school day is not only new, but receiving high grades.

The dual enrollment program is designed to give high school seniors opportunities for accelerated learning that prepares them for college.  Hightstown High School (HHS) has led the way since Fall 2013, when 47 students enrolled in English 101 and English 102, which is taught by a Hightstown teacher who is also an MCCC adjunct professor.  This year 41 students are enrolled in the two-semester English classes and 17 are taking “World History to 1500.”  (Teachers must have their master’s degree in their subject area to qualify as an MCCC instructor.)

HHS Principal Dennis Vinson and Guidance Supervisor Jessica Smedley.

“It’s truly a win-win,” says Bambhrolia, noting that the program allows students to experience college level curricula and expectations within the comfort zone of their school.  Their learning also comes with a prize – college credits that may transfer to their college of choice. If that college is Mercer, they have already completed several required General Education classes towards their degree.

In September 2014, three more schools signed on.  A total of 61 students are participating at the three Hamilton high schools – Steinert, Nottingham and Hamilton West, who offered English 101 in the fall and are now offering English 102.  Classes for Robbinsville High School are expected to commence in Fall 2015.

The seed for the program was planted several years ago in conversations between MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue and administrators for the East Windsor Regional School District.

“Our Board of Education saw this as an important goal for the district,” HHS Principal Dennis Vinson says.  “We are always trying to add rigorous classes. We have honors and AP, and now we have college classes.  This adds to our students’ options.” Hightstown is planning to expand its MCCC offerings next year to include another section of history, two levels of Spanish and an economics class.

“It is taking off.  In just in a couple of years, we are seeing significant growth in the program,” Vinson said.

HHS Guidance Supervisor Jessica Smedley observes that having the high school’s own teachers carrying out the instruction is ideal.  “It’s hard to layer a college schedule on top of a high school’s.  There are snow days, assemblies, and adherence to a particular school’s schedule.”  Hightstown uses a modified block schedule, with classes meeting for 56 minutes three out of every four days.

“We deliver the curriculum just like at Mercer,” Smedley explains.  “Grading is according to MCCC policy.  There are a few critical papers.  Twenty percent of the grade may rest with one paper.  Students learn how important it is to edit their work. The teacher is not looking over the student’s shoulder.  It requires self-discipline on the student’s part.”

HHS teachers meet once per semester with department chairs at Mercer and an MCCC librarian visits the HHS classrooms to explain library usage at Mercer and how students can access the college’s multiple research databases.

“Our students even get an MCCC ID and can use the facilities on campus,” Smedley said.

Vinson and Smedley agree that the program simply has no negatives.  “It has been an easy sell to our students and their parents.  It’s appealing to high achievers and anyone on a college track,” Smedley says.

She notes that unlike in AP classes, where students have to score well on an exam at the end of the year for a college to consider accepting the course for potential credit, successful completion of these courses automatically translates into three college credits.

Requirements include a score of 540 or better in the critical reading portion of the SAT or PSAT.  Or, students can take the Accuplacer test at Mercer and qualify for the classes by scoring at or above the requirement for entering MCCC freshmen.

Smedley observes that the program is great for top students, but is beneficial to any college-bound seniors who want to apply themselves and prepare for the future.  “It’s designed to help them transition to college.  There’s a safety net when the courses are taken at the high school.  It’s with a teacher they know in surroundings they are familiar with.  It’s a nice confidence builder. It’s good prep, no matter what.”

The HHS Guidance Office does its part to help students research which colleges are mostly likely to accept the credits. “It depends on the school. We look at the colleges the student is considering.  We check NJTransfer.org.   If it’s a school outside New Jersey, we encourage students to ask that question when they are doing their college research,” Smedley says.

When HHS’s graduation rolls around in June, the Class of 2015 will include approximately 60 students who will have earned at least six MCCC credits and 12 seniors graduating with 12 credits.

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