Dual enrollment program aids students in college and career
By Christina Leslie|Correspondent
Successful marathon runners know dedication, stamina and steady strides are important as they begin their long journey, but the final push to reach the finish line is what determines a true winner. The Diocese of Trenton has joined the initiative to boost students in their academic race by enabling them to get a head start on college coursework and earn college credits via an accelerated course curriculum known as the dual enrollment program.
According to studies published by the U.S. Department of Education, college students who had participated in dual enrollment in high school had higher persistence and retention, grade point average and credit accumulation than students who did not participate; had earned more college credits than their non]dual enrollment peers three years after high school graduation; and decreased the time to completion of a college degree, resulting in a significant cost savings.
Dr. Margaret Boland, diocesan assistant superintendant of schools, explained that the dual enrollment program benefits both students and parents. “It prepares the students for the rigor of academic life at a college or university; it provides an avenue to challenge students to complete their high school curriculum in such a way as to become eligible for college courses on the high school level,” Dr. Boland said, “[and] save their parents tuition costs as they enter the college arena.”
Four Catholic secondary schools in the diocese offer dual enrollment programs, all geared to the successful completion of a student’s high school career and seamless beginning of college academic excellence.
St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, offers a dozen honors or advanced placement courses in such subject areas as computer and physical sciences, languages, business ethics, psychology and Catholic social teaching. The potential exists for an SJV student to earn up to 36 college credits by taking these courses, each taught by a SJV faculty member who has earned a master’s degree in the pertinent subject area. SJV dual enrollment course credit is fully accepted at Seton Hall University, West Orange, and Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, and is exploring accreditation with Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck.
SJV assistant principal John Niesz, a strong proponent of the program, noted, “It gives students the opportunity to have a college experience at our school at a reduced tuition, and gives the students a chance to rate their knowledge, skills and abilities. It also gives them help in creating a foundation for their college years,” he stated. “They use a syllabus and are responsible for themselves, which is paramount to their success. They understand the value of an education.”
Mater Dei Prep, Middletown, has participated in the dual enrollment program in partnership with Brookdale Community College since the fall of 2009. MDP juniors and seniors who are in good academic standing may be released from the high school for a half-day to attend college-level courses on the college’s campus. The Middletown high school also participates in Seton Hall University’s “Project Acceleration,” a program that enables high school students to earn up to 22 credits as they begin working toward their bachelor’s degree while completing their high school courses.
MDP principal Steven Sciarappa noted that 125 students in this year’s graduating class have earned more than 24 college credits each, and next year’s senior class is projected to have students with 14 or more credits earned. He said, "The programs combine academic rigor, real college experience, and earned transferable undergraduate credits, affording our students a greater advantage in the highly competitive college admission process."
The dual enrollment program has been in effect at Holy Cross High School, Delran, for over 15 years. Students eligible for honors or advanced placement courses at the Delran high school also have the option of enrolling in the program at the start of each semester. Courses are taught by master’s level Holy Cross teachers viewed as adjunct professors at the colleges who participate in the program.
Credits earned may be applied directly to Burlington County College, Pemberton, or Seton Hall University; Frank Sgroi, program coordinator at Holy Cross, noted that over 300 colleges nationwide accept credits earned in the dual enrollment program.
Holy Cross senior Natasia Jacko is studying AP Calculus, AP Literature, Honors Probability and Statistics courses; she is on track to complete 21 college credits before she leaves the high school. The self-described “big planner” is Rutgers-bound and mapping out her college academic career while still in high school. “It makes it easier for me in the future,” she asserted.
Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, Upper School has offered dual enrollment vocational and technical courses in conjunction with the Mercer County Technical Schools, Trenton, for more than two decades. The shared-time program provides career preparation in more than 30 fields and offers instruction in interviewing and job search techniques; juniors and seniors divide their class time between TCA and the technical school and can earn both high school and Mercer County College credits.
TCA’s junior-senior counselor, Alicia Hayes, continued, “It offers students a jump start on their careers in terms of college credit, certifications, internships, job placement and the development of job skills.”
Dr. Boland applauded the diocesan dual enrollment program’s benefits to students both during their high school years and beyond. “Many of the careers that our graduates will be choosing have not even been developed as yet so opening the doors to college courses in high school gives the students an advantage,” she noted. “[The students have] … time to pursue different academic strands as they plan for their future.”