Start Early, Finish Ahead
For high school students looking forward to college, the future holds untold possibilities—and unprecedented debt. These days, the cost of earning a four-year degree comes with some pretty expensive strings attached.
"The average debt for a four-year degree right now is about $28,000. That's average. You will hear stories about students graduating with $50,000, $75,000, even $100,000 worth of debt," said College of DuPage Executive Vice President Joseph Collins. "We recognize this is a serious issue and we're trying to help our students better manage that situation."
Glenbard East students Veronica Arroyo (left) and Tania Garcia will participate in the Early College Initiative in the fall.
About 50 students from West Chicago and Glenbard East high schools will be first to test the benefits of COD's Early College Initiative, a pilot program that begins in the fall. It is part of a growing national movement to make higher education more accessible, attainable and affordable.
"If you can graduate high school with a semester of college already behind you, you're just that much further ahead of everybody else who's starting at square one," said Collins. "It's just a tremendous advantage for the student."
How the program works
Beginning junior year, students take one college course each semester and can opt to keep the momentum—and college credits—building with a summer class, earning up to 15 credit hours by the time they finish high school. COD instructors go to the high school, working directly with the students and teachers to complete five key courses: English, Speech, Psychology, Sociology and Economics.
"We wanted to offer general education core courses that would transfer anywhere," said Collins, adding that most institutions accept COD credits.
A discussion over a cup of coffee with West Chicago Principal Moses Cheng about ways his school and College of DuPage could work together became the impetus for the new pilot program.
"The Early College Initiative was in the back of my mind because I had been reading about it and thinking about how other states were doing this. I floated the idea by Moses and it instantly resonated with him," said Collins.
Cheng recalled the conversation about increasing opportunities for high school students to continue with post-secondary education.
"As a high school, we've been looking to strategically build within our students the belief and expectation that learning doesn't stop after high school, that continuing your education is truly possible for everyone," said Cheng. "COD has always been a great partner with our school through dual credit courses. It seemed natural to build upon that partnership and create another opportunity for students to acquire college-level skills while in high school."
When leaders from Glenbard East heard about the plan, they wanted in, too.
Shahe Bagdasarian, Assistant Principal for Instruction at Glenbard East, sees it as a way for students to excel and prepare for life after high school.
"Students will not only have an opportunity to earn college credits prior to high school graduation, but they will also be exposed to the rigor and structure of college courses before they actually enter college. This will help our students acclimate themselves to college," said Bagdasarian, who will become the school's next principal on July 1.
Opportunities and challenges
The College of DuPage Foundation is supporting the Early College Initiative, covering two-thirds of tuition costs for each student enrolled in the pilot program; the individual families are responsible for the remaining third.
Dr. Moses Cheng (left), principal of West Chicago Community High School, reviews plans for the initiative with Chris Miller, Associate Professor of Speech at College of DuPage. Miller is one of the COD faculty members who will be teaching college classes to high school students this fall.
Associate Speech Professor Christopher Miller looks forward to teaching a younger audience. These students are in for a real college experience—from the lectures to the assignments and the assessments.
"Growing up, I didn't have a lot of exposure to 'higher education.' I can vaguely remember all of my friends talking about post-secondary education and where they were planning to go after high school, but I had absolutely no idea about how to even get this kind of thing started," said Miller. "Through the Early College Initiative, I hope to inspire students to continue on with this journey as well as provide some direction about how to go about accomplishing their long-term academic goals."
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