Story and photo by Jay Cook
MIDDLETOWN – The transition between high school and college could be made easier and less expensive, thanks to a new school district initiative.
The Early College Academy, a new partnership program between Middletown Township Public School District and Brookdale Community College, will be offered to advanced students. The program blends Advanced Placement (AP) courses with college-level courses. By the time students graduate high school, they can also have earned an associate degree from Brookdale.
At a time when college costs and student debt levels are remarkably high, the Early College Academy aims to lighten the strain on students and their families.
The program’s estimated cost is about $7,000 per family, which is less than the cost to attend the first two years of school at a traditional college. With an associate degree in hand on Commencement Day, students would only need to spend two more years at a four-year college or university to earn their bachelor’s degree.
The option to continue on to a master’s degree program with those two remaining years is also available.
“For families, there are long-term benefits that you almost can’t even quantify at this point,” said Kimbery Pickus, assistant superintendent at the Middletown Township School District.
Currently, similar programs are being offered at Neptune, Raritan, Asbury Park and Saint John Vianney high schools, with each offering an Associate of Arts degree from Brookdale. The Middletown version will include that degree, while also being the first to provide an Associate of Science degree – focusing on STEM (science, engineering, technology and math).
“We’re not only attracting students that have an interest in the humanities, but we’re also attracting the pool of students who have that science, technology, engineering and math passion,” Pickus said.
On Feb. 16, the district held an information session for interested parents and students at Middletown High School North. Eighth grade students graduating from any of the three district middle schools – Bayshore, Thompson or Thorne – this summer would be among Middletown’s inaugural Early College Academy class.
The program requires that students from High School North and High School South take honors and AP-level classes throughout their time in high school, as well as Brookdale courses that will lead to the associate degree.
The preliminary goal is to enroll at least 25 students from North and South, said Pickus.
During freshman and sophomore years, everything will be done in-house: students will not need to leave their high school campus throughout the school day. In 11th and 12th grades, students will spend a portion of the day at their respective high school, and then travel to Brookdale’s Lincroft campus to take their associate degree courses with other community college students.
Each student would choose their high school AP courses depending on their concentration. For example, the Associate of Arts student would enroll in government and politics, U.S. history, English and human geography. The STEM pathway would require students take AP classes in computer science, probability and statistics, and calculus. The same model – taking classes related to your degree – applies for the college courses at Brookdale.
“These kinds of programs not only give these young people a head start, but it’s also a social justice mission,” said Franklyn Rother, dean of K-12 partnerships at Brookdale Community College. “For either low-income or working class families, it gives them an ability to put their kids through college without going bankrupt.”
One location where this program has caught on is at Saint John Vianney High School (SJV), located in Holmdel. The Catholic private school began its Early College Academy program in 2014, and will soon see results.
“Doors are opening for many of them that would not open otherwise,” said Jane Cable, assistant principal at SJV, of the students in the program.
At SJV, students take all their classes on campus in Holmdel until their senior year. Once they reach 12th grade, students complete the Brookdale classes at another location, all while continuing to work toward their high school diploma.
For the student, much goes into ensuring a steady flow of very good grades to remain in the program.
“For one thing, they have to be mature and be good time-managers,” Cable said. “The students also need to be able to have fun and be kids, but know they have to get their work done first.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Pickus, who said there’s one big question surrounding whether or not the Early College Academy is for every student.
“Do they have the developmental and social/emotional maturity to be successful in that kind of environment?” she said.
For Middletown students interested in enrolling into the inaugural Early College Academy class, numerous steps remain. Students must talk with their eighth-grade guidance counselors and submit an application packet by March 24. Meetings between counselors, students and their families will follow, informing potential candidates about the realities of the program.
Pickus believes that, in the long run, this program will undoubtedly prepare Middletown students for success.
“It’s going to better position them when they’re competing for their acceptance for that spot in a four-year institution,” she said. “I would anticipate that submitting an application and a transcript showing you’ve already completed upwards of 60 college credits as a high school student will definitely better position you.”
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