College Connections program benefits students

With college tuition prices increasing and over $1 trillion in student loan debt, students are looking for ways to save money. Locally, students can save money by taking concurrent enrollment in high school. The JCC College Connections Program allows students to take college credit courses in their own school at no cost.

The program started more than 15 years ago, according to Maria Kindberg, director of the College Connections program, when a local calculus teacher approached JCC, wanting to give students a chance to earn college credit.

“It started very small and for the first several years it grew rather slowly. There was more or less of an explosion. We currently have working relationships with 38 districts. That includes about 175 high school teachers and 1,600 high school students each year,” Kindberg said.

Students wishing to participate in the program must take the Accuplacer placement test.

This national test is offered in districts at no cost to the students. Kindberg said by not requiring students to drive to campus to take the test is just another way JCC is trying to accommodate the students’ needs.

Based on the Accuplacer scores, students are provided eligibility to enroll in courses. The majority of the classes are for juniors and seniors, Kindberg said, but there are some courses sophomores are eligible to take. This semester, the connections program is piloting an online course where students take the course outside of the regular school day. Adjustments to the online courses will be made if needed and more courses may be added for next year.

Currently there are 56 courses offered with English, history and business being the three largest categories, respectively. Science classes, such as chemistry and biology, welding and math courses are also offered. All classes are taught by a JCC-certified instructor. Cassadaga Valley, Brocton, Dunkirk, Forestville, Pine Valley, Gowanda and Westfield high schools participate in the connections program. The schools have been long-time participants in the program and are seeing their programs expand, Kindberg said.

New to the connections program are on-campus events for students to make them feel a part of the college community. JCC has developed a series of events designed for those in the program. Kindberg said Spanish students participated in a cultural awareness day on campus. Another student event held on campus was a history enrichment day. Kindberg said the campus will feature a connections program art exhibit, in addition to speech and essay contests.

“We think its important in the program that we provide opportunities for our high school students to come onto campus for events,” she said.

PROGRAM BENEFITS

According to Kindberg, national statistics say students who are in concurrent enrollment tend to finish a four-year degree faster with a higher GPA. Since the students are taking the courses in high school, there is no cost to earn the college credit.

Through surveys administered to the students enrolled in the program, it was found that students have more free time in their college schedule. This free time allows students to complete internships or study abroad.

“That flexibility means a great deal to college students. Some of them are very adamant that what they wanted was to save money and complete (college courses) quicker and others are really looking for that flexibility to free up some of their time,” Kindberg said.

Local high school administrators say students have graduated with more than 30 credit hours acquired through the connections program. Those credits are easily transferable as course or elective credits. Dr. Robert Anderson, Gowanda High School principal, said students in his school have graduated with as many as 36 credits.

“It really provides a very rigorous academic environment that is truly college preparatory,” he said. “It’s a good program for us. It benefits kids immensely.”

Dunkirk High School Principal Stephen O’Brien echoed Anderson’s sentiments, stating the program is beneficial to students. O’Brien added through JCC, students are able to visit various college campuses in addition having the opportunity to receive college credit. The district continues to meet with JCC to maximize the potential of the program for students. Recently DHS added biology and have several distance learning classes.

“We have students graduating with one full year of college at no expense to them. I don’t see how you can beat that. For Dunkirk High School, I just think it’s invaluable,” O’Brien said.

Brocton Superintendent John Hertlein said students receive the benefits of having credits that are transferable, which is a financial savings. The teachers are also seeing “really high staff development” by teaching these classes. Brocton is also one of the districts offering an online course to students this year preparing students for future online college courses.

Silver Creek High School Principal James Klubek said students learn how to research and cite properly in the program. He also said by taking college-level courses in high school, students won’t have culture shock arriving at college. Students receive grades similar to that in college in the program; the grading is a bit more critical than regular high school courses, according to Klubek.

In addition to the college connections program Paul Mihalko, Pine Valley High School principal, said JCC has brought a student panel discussion to the high school. Having college credit before graduation gives students equity, Mihalko said.

“It really does give kids a jump start. I think if they have some equity going into a college they are more apt to go to that college,” he said. “I know a couple of students … like it because they feel they’re going to get a little bit of a jump start.”

Comments on this article may be sent to smcdonnell@observertoday.com