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COURT HOUSE - Atlantic Cape Community College expanded its Early College High School Initiative to Cape May County, with agreements with Middle Township and Ocean City high schools. The initiative was introduced in 2018, with the Pleasantville School District.

Early College programs allow students to enroll in an institution of higher education, while working on a secondary degree. In some cases, the dual enrollment can begin prior to high school.

The program’s purpose is to allow students to get a head start on college, and to enhance the challenge of learning by exposing students to material that would not normally be part of the high school curriculum.

Early College began as an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2001. Since then, an early college high school network across over 25 states has received $124 million in support from the foundation.

The program has a growing presence in New Jersey, with several community colleges, including Bergen, Raritan Valley, Ocean and now Atlantic Cape launching initiatives with local high schools. The hope is that the program will help to remove barriers to postsecondary education, by lowering costs, giving students a jump on course credits, and helping to ensure that more students arrive at college better prepared for college work.

Each Early College agreement with a secondary school is unique and individually designed. It may set different parameters for when students are eligible for enrollment. It may tie to specific academic academies or career paths that have strengths at a specific high school. It may be self-contained within the high school facility or involve course work on a college campus.

In all cases, the program offers dual credit for select course work, even up to the completion of an associate’s degree, while satisfying the requirements of a high school diploma.

Pricing courses that receive college credit is at a fraction of the cost of the same credits in the regular community college program, as much as one-third of the normal tuition charge. One goal that has long been part of the Early College High School Initiatives has been reducing a student’s need for high levels of student loans.

The basis of each individual agreement is a memorandum of understanding between the school district and the college. Following the successful launch of the program in Pleasantville, Atlantic Cape expanded the program to four high schools this year: Middle Township, Oakcrest, Cedar Creek, and Absegami. An agreement was signed with Ocean City High School for program initiation for its next academic year.

The concepts are not new. Prior to launching Early College, Atlantic Cape had dual credit arrangements with 13 high schools and 18 college/high school articulation agreements, which cover all of the public high schools in Cape May County.

Early College agreements represent a continued extension of college offerings in the high school environment, now capable of providing a full two-year college degree as part of the program.

High schools will approach their Early College programs differently, and a student’s specific school is the best first source of detailed information on the program.

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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