In the final hour before the five-day Thanksgiving break, Schenectady High School seniors in IB Biology simulated how inherited traits change over multiple generations of a rabbit population.
Under the direction of teacher Annie Chien, the students hypothesized how different factors – a pack of wolves, for example – would impact the bunny population.
The advanced biology class, which is spread across two school years, demands students conduct major research projects; they have completed a pair of 12-page essays so far this year.
They might as well have been in a college class, and essentially, they were.
The credits the students will earn for passing that class simultaneously count toward their high school degree and the college degree many of the students plan to pursue.
“I did it because it feels like a better financial decision, so I won’t have to pay extra,” said Schenectady senior Christian Mora, who is also taking a history and a Spanish class at the high school for college credit. “I can do it here and get it over with.”
Trteal Ali, also a high school senior, said she plans to study nursing in college and wants bank some credits before she graduates.
“They count for college, so it wasn’t going to hurt,” she said.
Known as “concurrent enrollment,” students register as SUNY Schenectady students but take the class at Schenectady high with a Schenectady teacher, who is certified by the college.
The program, which is in over two dozen Capital Region districts with SUNY Schenectady alone, offers major savings on the cost of college – students pay one-third the tuition rate of the community college they are dual enrolled in. For SUNY Schenectady, many have that reduced rate covered by scholarships. The program also gives high school students a sampling of what the workload and expectations of a college course will be, from the comfort of their high school.
“It does give the students a boost up, a lot of students graduate from high school with 30 college credits,” said Colleen Pacella, a Schenectady High School guidance counselor. “It also gives them a little bit of a taste of what to expect in college.”
Pacella said a lot of students and families see tremendous value in fulfilling college requirements while still in high school and minimizing the sticker shock of what a college degree will ultimately cost.
“This is getting a college requirement out of the way,” she said. “Get some of your general core requirements out of the way: the kids listen to that.”
And as community college enrollment has slid as the economy has grown for nearly a decade, the number of high school students earning college credits at their high school has been a bright spot for college officials. The SUNY Schenectady program has seen steady growth in recent years.
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High school students earned nearly 14,000 college credits through SUNY Schenectady College in the High School classes during the 2013-2014 school year. During the 2017-2018 school year, high school students earned more than 20,000 credits through the program, a level the college has continued to build on.
The number of school districts offering college courses through the program grew from 18 in 2013 to 25 in 2017, and SUNY Schenectady added a few new districts to the list this fall. The number of courses offered has also increased. While the total number of students enrolled in the program declined slightly this year, the average student is pursuing nearly one-third of a credit more than last year.
The most popular College in the High School courses satisfy many entry-level college requirements: college composition, precalculus, Spanish, U.S. government and biology.
Pam McCall, director of college and high school partnerships at SUNY Schenectady, said she is regularly discussing with over two dozen school districts what courses they can and will offer and how to expand those offerings for students.
“We are constantly working on what else do we need,” she said.
But the course offerings vary widely from high school to high school, with different schools offering different courses depending on teacher staffing and student demand. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, for instance, offers business law and marketing, computer science classes, environmental studies and history and government classes for college credit – 16 classes in total. Fonda-Fultonville High School, by comparison, offers just one class through the program, music fundamentals.
Schenectady, Mohonasen, Scotia-Glenville and Niskayuna high schools all offer students a dozen or more class options through the College in the High School program. The program is also available to charter and private schools.
“It really depends on what the district is looking for,” McCall said. “When I start with a new district, you are starting anew, you can’t do a cookie cutter.”
The potential time and financial savings are front of mind – many students are able to wipe away an entire year in college thanks to credits acquired while in high school – but the program also gives students the chance to try out a college class before making a full move to college. They learn about how a class syllabus works and are expected to pass midterms and complete complicated writing assignments or research projects.
“Some of them say 'I didn’t think I could do college until I took this course,' ” McCall said of the program’s students.