Getting a Head Start on College While Still in High School [02/10/2016]
Imagine being 18 and graduating with an associate degree and ready to transfer to a four year institution as a junior. Or how about being 17 and realizing you will graduate high school at the same time you have earned two years of college credit. Sound too good to be true? Then meet 18-year old Misty Ogbara and 17-year old Bailey McGrath, two Prairie State College (PSC) students who are doing that through the Early College Initiative (ECI) Program at PSC.
PSC partners with several local high schools to provide high achieving seniors the opportunity to take college level courses that meet the minimum standards for high school graduation. Entering its sixth year, the ECI Program gives students a head start on their college career and, in most cases, the students graduate from high school with at least two semesters of college credit on their transcript. Ogbara participated through Crete Monee High School and McGrath through Bloom Trail.
“I am going to have an associate degree at 18,” Ogbara said. “I have saved so much money, and now I know how to navigate college.” At first, she worried she would miss out on the high school experience. But that has not been the case. “Most of my friends ended up participating in the program, and then I still attended high school in the afternoon,” she continued.
Ogbara decided to attend PSC after finishing the ECI program. “I loved my professors. Some of them were really amazing so I decided to stay and finish my associate degree. I am planning on transferring this fall to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I will major in pre-med. I will be transferring to UIC as a junior, at 18,” she said.
“I was so excited that Crete Monee and PSC had this program. This has been a very positive experience for me - I went to high school and college and got credits for both, credits I didn’t have to pay for,” Ogbara continued.
McGrath was part of the pilot program allowing juniors into ECI. She had taken pre-calculus as a sophomore, and her counselor suggested she take the COMPASS Assessment test to see if she qualified for ECI.
McGrath not only qualified for ECI, she enjoyed the program so much she took chemistry between her junior and senior year of high school. “It has been very hard but worthwhile. I can’t believe how much my writing has improved. This has been an amazing experience for me,” McGrath said.
One of her favorite aspects of PSC is the variety of student ages. “My grandmother is taking classes here. Being in class with people of different ages changes your perspective. You are not just learning with others your own age. It has been one of the things I have really liked about the program,” she said.
McGrath continues taking three Advanced Placement (AP) classes at Bloom Trail, plus she is in band and works part time. She does not feel she has missed out on high school at all.
“The day feels shorter even though it is actually longer. I think it is having the opportunity to take classes I would never take in high school. I would encourage high school students to do this program.”
She may need to take one class this summer to finish her associate degree, and will be -headed to college in the fall as a sophomore with 30 college credits. Where she will go is still up in the air, but she is excited to already have earned so many credits.
Coordinating the student’s schedules between their high school and PSC can be hectic. PSC High School Recruiter and Enrollment Advisor, Beth Wyack, is the person that makes sure the student’s schedules work at both places. Wyack also works closely with the high school counselors to test, enroll, and support the students who are enrolled in the ECI program.
“The students take the COMPASS test at PSC, then PSC staff goes to the high schools to register the students. Then once the students are enrolled, I work closely with the high school counselors to ensure there are not any issues,” Wyack said.
Wyack has been part ECI since its inception. “It gives students exposure to community college. They soon find out that these courses are very different from high school. They find out what it is like to be in college.”
ECI differs from AP classes because students actually take college courses from college professors. All the credits earned through ECI show up on the student’s college transcript reflecting credit that can be transferred to other schools. If the college course has prerequisites, all of them must be met before the student can take the college course.
The ECI program focuses on the general education courses that are requirements for almost every major. Students can get those courses out of the way while experiencing college life.
In addition to Crete Monee and the Bloom Township School District 206 partnerships, PSC has a partnership with Rich Township School District 227 for the Academy for Student Excellence in Science and Math. Similar in design to ECI, but the focus is on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Annually about 25 students participate in the STEM Academy.