Campus brings college-level course experience to local high school

Several students at the Schuylkill Haven Area High School had the opportunity this past fall semester to participate in a college-level course when Dr. Charlie Law, assistant professor of psychology at Penn State Schuylkill, came to their classroom three times a week to teach Introduction to Psychology.

The course, offered through the campus's Dual Enrollment program, was a chance for the students to experience college-level academics in a familiar environment. High-achieving students, many of them currently taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, eagerly signed-up. Sarah E. Yoder, Schuylkill Haven Area High School principal, agreed to collaborate with Penn State Schuylkill to offer the on-site program because the course was affordable, the work would be challenging, and having it right at the school made it accessible to the students. "We are just thrilled that they came to us and proposed this program," said Yoder.

The class was held during the school's eighth period class time, three days per week. The other two days the students would attend a study hall, during which time they could work on their class assignments. The days and times of the class were structured this way in order to mimic the schedule of a typical college course that runs three days a week; Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 50 minutes each day. The purpose was for students to get a good representation of a course schedule in order to develop regular study habits.

Dr. Law noted that with 15 enrolled students it is a relatively small class size, but he has enjoyed teaching the group. "It's a lot easier for me to get to know them, and I think they feel more comfortable talking about topics in class because they all know each other," Law said.

Law teaches the course at the high school and campus exactly the same way, with one exception; instead of participating in research, the high school students will review published projects. "The course is a good representation of what college courses are like," said Law. "It's information and material I don't think they would otherwise get in high school, so I think it's broadening their horizons."

Mary Zimmerman, a junior, and Owen Pothering, a senior, said the class moves more quickly than their AP classes, and it involves more independent work. Pothering said the differences took a little getting used to, "I put a lot more effort in, and I actually took time to research what I was learning about, and that, in turn, helped me enjoy it more."

Zimmerman agreed that the class is giving her an idea of what academics in college will be like. "It really helps compare the high school tests to tests given in college," Zimmerman said. "It helps get us ready for the actual college experience."

There were some challenges that had to be addressed before offering the course at the high school location. Scheduling had to be considered for several reasons, including the fact that the University semester ends before the school holiday break. Another matter was obtaining clearances for the students to access the Internet in order to utilize the University's course management system to review research articles and take course assessments.

Additional benefits of the program are that all high school students receive a 50 percent scholarship toward the cost of their tuition, and they are earning college credits for their work. The Introduction to Psychology credits count toward general education requirements at Penn State, and it is likely that the credits will also transfer out to another institution. So, not only is there a significant cost savings with the scholarship by taking the course now, but it also means that there is one less class the student will have to take when they start attending college, possibly decreasing their time to degree completion.

Shannon Del Conte, coordinator of Continuing Education at Penn State Schuylkill, explains that the Dual Enrollment program is designed for high school juniors and seniors to get a jump-start on their college career, and students don't have to wait until it's offered at their school district. They can also apply to attend classes at the campus.

"Our ultimate goal is to make them aware of the opportunities at Penn State Schuylkill," Del Conte said. "We would love to have them enroll as traditional students after their high school graduation, and we also welcome them to come to the campus to take additional dual enrollment courses."

A dual enrollment course has not been scheduled for this spring at Schuylkill Haven; however, there are plans to have on-site classes scheduled in both semesters for the 2016-2017 academic year. Ms. Yoder has requested a computer science course since the high school currently does not offer one, and there are also discussions about rotating general education courses in order to appeal to the greatest number of students.

"I think it has gone very well," Yoder said. "All of the feedback from the students and parents has been very positive. Sometimes students hesitate to stay local, but with this connection, they may choose to stay to keep from accumulating additional student loan debt."

According to Dr. Darcy Medica, interim director of Academic Affairs at Penn State Schuylkill, the program has been so well-received that there are discussions in progress with other school districts about bringing on-site dual enrollment courses to their students for the fall 2016 semester. "We have several high school students in our area that are enrolled in dual enrollment courses on-campus; however, many students don't have access to every day transportation," Medica said. "Offering on-site courses will provide additional opportunities."