Jump Start

Dual enrollment delivers credits and confidence

by Tom Speicher, writer/video editor

Published December 7, 2017

The student manipulates the apparatus with the confidence of a seasoned technician.  

She grasps a metal hook and connects it to a two-plated mold. She employs an overhead crane to safely lower the 1,500-pound mold into the machine’s clamping unit. Moments later, she deftly aligns the mold’s locating ring to a nozzle that will deliver a thermoplastic substance into the mold’s cavity. The injection molder is primed to produce plastic parts, and the student didn’t break a sweat.

Williamsport Area High School student Kevin Johnson-Bates earns both high school and college credit for a Penn College course taught at his school by a Williamsport teacher during the regular school day. Photo by Cindy Davis MeixelHer seamless effort belies her status on this day as a sophomore plastics and polymer engineering technology student at Pennsylvania College of Technology. For good reason. 

Sapphire E. Naugle has been taking Penn College plastics courses since she was a sophomore – in high school. 

The Jersey Shore resident earned 18 college credits before graduating from high school, thanks to Penn College NOW. The nationally accredited dual-enrollment program allows students to take a variety of Penn College courses for free at their high school or career and technology center. The transferable credits jump-start students’ college education and slash their tuition costs.

“I wish I was able to go into every single high school and just grab a hold of those kids and say, ‘Listen, you need to take these classes,’” said Naugle, who cut approximately $11,000 from her tuition through Penn College NOW. “You’re able to save so much money and to start finding that direction before you just apply to a college and guess what you want to do.”

This year, more than 1,300 students throughout the state are following Naugle’s path by enrolling in a Penn College NOW class, whether it be a general education subject like English or a hands-on, technical course such as welding. The types and number of classes offered by 49 partner schools vary, but the execution is similar. High school instructors, approved and assisted by Penn College faculty liaisons, teach the college course. The students receive a grade for both their high school record and Penn College transcript. 

High schoolers have opportunities to earn free credits in more than 30 subjects, including welding, business and electronics. Photo by Jennifer A. Cline“Considering that students can take a college course during the day in an environment where they are already comfortable with teachers they already know, there really is no downside to the Penn College NOW program,” said Monica A. McCarty, a dual-enrollment specialist at Penn College. “It’s a huge opportunity for students.”

Aspirations of Penn College NOW students range from immediate entry into the workforce to enlisting in the military to enrolling in college, according to McCarty. 

“They benefit from Penn College NOW in any of those scenarios,” she said. “They get college credits under their belt. It really doesn’t cost them anything except effort and time.”

Quinn McCluskey believes the effort and time are well worth it. She is one of more than 100 students taking a Penn College NOW class in the Keystone Central School District. The senior has earned 16 Penn College NOW credits in anticipation of majoring in computer security.

“It’s challenging in the beginning, but in the end, you see your work pay off. You’ll know what to expect for college,” she said. “I was kind of worried a few years ago if I would be able to handle college, but after taking Penn College NOW classes, I’m certain I will be able to.”

McCluskey’s classmate, Jeffrey Alvarez, is bringing his 10 credits to Penn College, where he plans to major in architectural technology. Approximately 25 percent of students in the dual-enrollment program matriculate to the college.    

Jersey Shore Area High School teacher Dolly Oden teaches a Penn College course to Jersey Shore students. Photo by Cindy Davis Meixel“I’m confident on where these courses will take me,” he said. “Penn College NOW is more work, but it does lead me to be prepared for what I’m going to be looking forward to in college. It made me feel like I can do this. I’m ready for it.”

Testing determines if high school students are equipped for Penn College NOW courses. Successful completion of a reading placement test is a prerequisite for all classes, and some courses also require mathematics and/or English exams. The placement tests are equivalent to those given to incoming Penn College students. 

“About 60 percent of prospective Penn College NOW students who take the placement tests don’t hit the benchmark to qualify for the program,” McCarty said. “We do provide our partner schools with free resources to help prepare students for the tests and to remediate any deficiencies prior to a second attempt.”

Of the students who qualify for Penn College NOW and take a course, McCarty estimates a pass rate of 98 percent.

A Penn College NOW student builds a circuit board at SUN Area Technical Institute. Photo by Cindy Davis Meixel“That high percentage is a testament to the highly qualified secondary teachers we have in the program and our dedicated Penn College faculty liaisons,” she said.   

Frederick Hoy is one of those secondary instructors, specializing in architectural drafting and CAD classes. He’s taught Penn College NOW students like McCluskey and Alvarez in the Keystone Central School District for the past few years.  

“I think it’s a fantastic program. I encourage it to every single student who walks through my door and ones I just bump into in the hallway,” he said. “I think the biggest thing we can do for our students is try to give them every opportunity to succeed and help them realize the talents they might have.”

“You’re able to save so much money and to start finding that direction before you just apply to a college and guess what you want to do.”

That’s what the program did for Naugle. Long before prepping a $250,000 injection molder in one of the college’s plastics labs, she operated a $6,000 tabletop version in her first Penn College NOW class. Once she injected the plastic material into her mold, she was hooked.

“It was the coolest thing that I had done,” she said. “I fell in love with a major that I knew I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Without Penn College NOW, I think I would have struggled finding that.” 

Instead of a struggle, Naugle is well on her way to earning a bachelor’s degree as she eyes a career working as a plastics engineer in the automotive field. 

“The college gave me an amazing opportunity,” she said. “Penn College NOW is definitely something that you should 
do!”  ■