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College coming early for some

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

Students who will be high school juniors next fall but can’t wait for college can get a taste of the latter in a new program that Highline Community College will unveil next week in Federal Way.

Puget Sound Early College (PSEC), seeded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will allow high school juniors and eventually seniors to earn a high school diploma and a college associate of arts degree simultaneously. Tuition will be free, but students will have to buy books and supplies.

The program –– which will be officially introduced to students and their families during open houses March 31 and April 1 at HCC’s Federal Way campus, where courses will be taught –– will be small and will focus on students and their individual learning needs, officials said.

PSEC will start next fall with juniors. In two years, when juniors and seniors are accepted, enrollment will peak at 180 students –– 90 juniors and 90 seniors.

The student-to-teacher ratio will be 30 to 1. Students will remain in “cohort” groups of 30 throughout their two years in the program.

“Students will have plenty of one-on-one time with faculty for advising, mentoring and reviewing projects. It will be an intensive and individualized learning environment with high expectations,” said Jeff Wagnitz, Highline’s dean of instruction for transfer and pre-college education.

The cohort distinction makes Early College different from Running Start, another program in which students can take community college courses while still in high school. Running Start students enroll in a wide range of college classes across the curriculum on the main campus, said HCC spokeswoman Sherry Reichert. Early College students will attend classes in a cohort with fellow PSEC students and will have limited choices in curriculum.

But like Running Start, PSEC students will receive dual college and high school credit.

Initial funding for Early College is a $319,450 grant from the Gates Foundation. It covers three years of the program and is part of the foundation’s goal of schools becoming “high-achievement models through improved teaching and learning and enhanced access to technology.”

The first year’s worth of the grant is for planning. The rest of the funding is for the 2004–05 and 2005-06 academic years. The program is expected to eventually become self-supporting.

In addition to academic standards, one of the “primary goals” of Early College “is to create a learning environment that embraces diversity, including student diversity in goals, educational preparation, economic background, and racial and ethnic background,” Wagnitz said.

During the open houses next week, prospective students and their families will see the Federal Way campus, learn about Early College and receive admissions material.

Early College joins adult basic education, English as a second language and the Center for Extended Learning (which includes technology classes) as programs at the Federal Way campus.

The highest percentage of students enrolled at Highline’s main campus in Des Moines are the 22 percent who hail from Federal Way. The next highest percentages are from Kent (16 percent), Des Moines (11) and Burien (10).

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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