Washington High School will join East Central College’s Early College Academy if the public school district’s budget permits, after Board of Education approval Feb. 24.
After earning 60 credits at ECC, participating students would receive their Associate of Arts degree at the same time as they graduate from high school, said Megen Strubberg, director of early college programs at ECC. Thus, ECC credits would apply to both degrees.
“(Students) don’t need to go back to high school at all,” principal Scott Byrne said at the meeting. “They basically start their college career early.”
Strubberg followed: “Exactly. The only ones who would do the high school part will be those who are able to work their sport, so there might be training requirements.
Twelve Union High School students are already enrolled in the program, which began in the fall of 2020. St. Clair will also join in the fall, Strubberg said, and there will be 10 spots available for its students.
The decision to participate in the program comes just as lawmakers are discussing school choice bills through Senate Bill 55 and House Bill 349.
“School choice” refers to study options that extend beyond traditional public school classrooms. This can be through internships, private school enrollment, charter school expansion, or, as seen through the college academy, class credit at a community college. .
All Washington board members opposed the passage of Senate Bill 55 at the meeting. They expressed their support for the alternative educational pathways made available to students through this new program.
“The beauty of it all is that it’s an option,” Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said.
To join, students need a 3.0 GPA or a 2.5 GPA with qualifying ACT, SAT, or ECC placement scores. They must maintain a C average to remain enrolled.
“It’s really important that we have the right students in this program,” Strubberg said. “They really have to take it seriously.”
Instead of the students’ families, the school district would pay tuition and textbook prices for participants. Each credit hour costs $55. ECC would cover the additional costs.
Union School District paid a total of about $15,600 for its 12 students to enroll in the 2021 spring semester, according to a slide show presented at the meeting.
“As long as it stays within budget constraints and meets our program criteria, we have empowered Dr. Lori VanLeer to move forward,” said school board chair John Freitag.
Students could potentially receive technical degrees instead of associate degrees, but Strubberg said they should work with high school counselors to ensure students still meet high school requirements.
Meramec Valley R-III High School has a similar curriculum to the academy, according to precedents Missourian reports. Its students can study at St. Louis Community College-Wildwood.
Additionally, Jefferson College, Metropolitan Community College, Ozarks Technical College, and St. Charles Community College also offer early college experiences.
“It’s one word: choice,” said Board Vice Chairman Jason Oesterly. “We try to give as many different routes to each student.”