High School Students Earn College Grades in Area Classrooms

Published 09.08.2006


When Curtis J. Wrable, a recent graduate from Central Mountain High School, began classes in electronics and computer engineering technology this fall at Pennsylvania College of Technology, he had 15 credits under his belt and began study in second-semester classes.

Similarly, 2006 Jersey Shore Area High School graduate Zachary G. Lengel entered the information technology program at Penn College with a semester's worth of classes already completed.

Both took Penn College courses (the same as those offered to the college's full-time students) in their high school classrooms, taught by their high school teachers during the regular school day, and received full college credit that can be used not only at Penn College, but can be transferred to any college or university that will accept it. The credits were earned through Penn College NOW, a dual-enrollment program that allows area high school students to enroll as nondegree students at the college and receive grades that become part of a Penn College transcript.

"These courses are fully equal in breadth, depth and rigor to courses taught on Penn College's campus," said Jeannette L. Fraser, director of Penn College's Outreach for K-12 Office, which administers the program.

"They didn't take it easy on us here," Lengel assured of his high school teachers, noting that they made lectures match those of Penn College faculty.

To ensure the courses' equality, the high school faculty who teach the courses are approved and trained by the college, a Penn College faculty liaison works with the high school teacher, and Penn College faculty grade the high school students' final exams and major unit tests.

For Wrable, who was already interested in electronics because of its base in logic, mathematics and reasoning, the decision to participate in the dual-enrollment program was an easy one.

"It gives you a better atmosphere of what college courses are like and the workload that goes with it," Wrable said.

"This program is really about giving students experience, so when they arrive on a college campus, they are more prepared and will be more likely to graduate," Fraser explained.

Lengel said that, while the course material used in his classes at Jersey Shore was the same as that used at the college, the program offered a good environment to get acclimated with the college material.

"I was able to focus more on learning different aspects of the course one-on-one," he said. "What at college they do in a semester, we do in a whole year."

"This program gives our students the opportunity to excel and to move beyond the basic curriculum," said Dorothy Chappel, director of career and technical education for Jersey Shore Area School District. "The courses are rigorous, and they're relevant to our students' future plans."

The program is attracting some of the high schools' best and brightest students, who seek a higher challenge. Among them, in addition to Lengel and Wrable, is Matthew Farringer, who is taking Penn College electronics courses at Central Mountain High School.

"This will let me get some of the credits out of the way now. I may not get done (with college) earlier, but I can take other courses and get more done while I'm there," he said. "It just seems like it's convenient to take it here – to get a little taste of the college material."

Farringer is entering his senior year and is considering studying robotics at The Pennsylvania State University, though he has not made a final decision. Likewise, Nathan Welshans begins his senior year at Jersey Shore Area High School with 12 college credits from information technology dual-enrollment courses already completed.

"It allows me to learn a lot of things that otherwise I never would've had the opportunity to learn until I get to college," he said.

Welshans is also unsure of his college plans, but both students intend to try to transfer their Penn College credits to whatever colleges they attend.

Dual enrollment was offered beginning last fall, building on the college's 2+2+2, or NanoTrek, initiative. The Penn College NOW dual-enrollment process differs from the NanoTrek program in that NanoTrek participants earned credit toward their degree only if they enrolled at Penn College following their high school graduation.

Penn College NOW students are asked to pay for the courses, but at a greatly reduced fee of $20 per credit. Most of the courses are worth three credits. Application fees and other charges are waived.

"I love the program," Lengel said. He estimates the program has saved him approximately $4,500 over taking the courses on the college's campus when he enrolls as a freshman.

While each of these students, after their introduction to the college course work involved in electronics and information technology, seem confident in their plans to continue studying these fields, Lengel pointed out: "Even if you're not sure what you want to do, ... if you take the dual enrollment and realize this isn't what you wanted to do, you don't lose $5,000 to $10,000."

The dual-enrolled high school students may earn up to 15 credits taught by their high school teachers – equal to about a semester of college work. Penn College courses are offered in information technology and electronics in most of the participating schools – which cover all students in Lycoming, Clinton, Snyder, Sullivan and Union counties, and parts of Centre and Northumberland counties. Schuylkill County Area Vocational Technical School plans to offer dual enrollment in Penn College plastics courses.

The courses are offered to coincide with each high school's schedule. Students earn both a high school grade and a Penn College grade, which may differ. In order to enroll in Penn College courses at the high school level, students must pass various placement tests.

"The program helps students because ... it gives them an awareness of a level of engineering that they would never have received in high school," said Ken Kryder, who teaches electronics at Central Mountain High School.

The college plans to seek accreditation for Penn College NOW from the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Programs. This accreditation is available after the program has been in operation for five years.

High school students who are interested in participating but have not yet enrolled may check the Penn College NOW Web site or contact their guidance counselors.