Florida’s new collegiate high schools save students big bucks

Broward College’s north campus is home to a new group of college students, ones who haven’t even finished high school yet.

A high school called College Academy, already popular on the college’s Davie campus, has expanded to Coconut Creek, giving more students a chance to earn college credits and save thousands of dollars. The campus has 50 juniors this year but expects to add hundreds more in the coming years.

The new College Academy, run by the community college and the Broward school district, is one of two new efforts in South Florida to give high school students a full-time college experience. Palm Beach State College has added a new Collegiate High School to its Palm Beach Gardens campus, although it’s first-year enrollment is tiny.

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These programs join existing ones that combine the high school and college experience, including FAU High School at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and two high schools on Miami-Dade College’s campuses, New World School of the Arts High School and the School for Advanced Studies. All allow students to earn varying levels of college credit for free.

The collegiate high schools are a more intense version of dual enrollment programs, where students attend regular high schools but take some college classes at their school or at a local college. Students enrolled in the collegiate schools earn credits that count toward both their high school degree and a college degree.

The programs are fully funded by a college, a school district, or both. Students pay no tuition, fees or books, saving them thousands of dollars and enabling them to graduate from college early. In the case of Broward’s College Academy, students attend their junior and senior years and graduate with both a high school diploma and a two-year’s associates degree. That enables them to enter a four-year university as a junior.

“I’m thinking about becoming a doctor, so I’ll have to go to medical school, which will be expensive,” said Daniel Garces, 16 of Parkland. “Taking two years of college is going to save me a lot of time and money.”

Students must have at least a 3.25 grade point average and pass a college entrance exam to get into Broward’s program.

They take 15-credit hours a semester. Two of their classes, English and math, are taught only to high school students by College Academy instructors trained to teach college material. But the students attend three classes with adult students, taught by regular Broward College faculty.

“It’s not for everyone. If you’re someone who loves being in the marching band, College Academy may not be for you. We don’t have a marching band,” Principal Deborah Davey said. “But if you’re a student who is very focused academically, this could be the best choice.”

College Academy started on the Davie campus in 2001 with 143 students and now serves more than 400, with many earning scholarships to such prestigious schools as Harvard, Duke and the University of Florida.

Lynde Voet, a teacher who helps oversee the new campus, said her son, Tyler, graduated from College Academy in 2012 and then pursued an engineering degree at the University of Central Florida. She said the UCF program normally takes five years, but he finished in three. Since he didn’t use all four years of his Bright Futures scholarship, he had money left over to help pay for graduate school at UCF, she said.

“It’s been a tremendous savings,” Voet said.

Palm Beach State created its new program because the Legislature in 2014 required every community college to offer a collegiate high school.

The Legislature saw dual enrollment as a way to help get students out of college sooner and also save students money, since they aren’t charged tuition or fees.

Palm Beach State was the only South Florida school that didn’t already have such a program. But its off to a slow start, with only six students enrolled this fall.

The college was “a little late to the game” when it announced the program in December 2014, said Robert Van Der Velde, associate dean at the Palm Beach Gardens campus. By then, most students who wanted to attend special choice programs had already applied.

The college decided to focus on the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – which are areas expected to have the most demand for qualified workers.

Unlike College Academy at Broward College and FAU High, the participating students will get their high school degree from the high school they previously attended.

“Their course work is all done here but other activities, like senior prom and students clubs they want to participate in, take place at their high school,” said Van Der Velde.

Students must provide their own transportation.

The college hoped to offer classes serving only the high school students in the program, but with only six of them, that’s not practical this year. So they are mixed in with adult students.

The school plans to start its recruiting efforts earlier this year and will likely expand it to a two-year program, similar to Broward’s College Academy.

“From what we’ve learned from other states, when you expand a program from one year to two years, the enrollment numbers go up,” Van Der Velde said. ” You end up with both a college degree and a high school degree at the same time, and that’s very attractive to students.”

If the revamped program is successful, the college hopes to bring the concept to other campuses, such as Lake Worth or Boca Raton.

“That’s definitely on the drawing board,” Van Der Velde said.

stravis@sunsentinel.com or 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421

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Article source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/fl-college-academy-20150911-story.html

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