AUGUSTA — A new task force will study ways students can take postsecondary courses while in high school, which could include the five-year high school concept on which Gov. Paul LePage campaigned.

The Early College Task Force, which LePage established with an executive order on Tuesday, has two main purposes, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said.

The first is to gather information about the myriad structures through which Maine high school students already can earn college or other postsecondary credits. The second is to make policy recommendations to expand access to such programs.

LePage came into office intrigued by an initiative in North Carolina that built high schools on college campuses. Students graduate from the schools in five years after completing not only their high school requirements, but also an associate degree it typically takes two years to earn.

After his appointment, Bowen spent more time researching that model and existing programs in Maine.

“What I found was we had lots of early college opportunities going on already,” he said. “We had kids taking college courses, we had kids taking courses online, we had professors coming to high school campuses. We had all kinds of different models.”

But because school districts have set them up independently, no comprehensive information is available on the institutions involved, the number of students enrolled or a variety of other factors.

“We don’t have a good sense at the department of how they work, how they’re funded,” Bowen said. “My advice to (the governor) was, we really need to do some digging on this.”

The task force will have 19 members.

Fifteen members will be appointed by LePage, and will include representatives from public and private colleges, teachers unions, public school administrations and school boards.

Two state representatives and two state senators will also serve on the task force, which will deliver a report to the governor and the Education Committee by Dec. 1.

“I’m looking forward to sitting in on the meetings and seeing what comes out of this,” said Rep. David Richardson, R-Carmel, the committee’s co-chairman. “Obviously, we know that we’ve got to increase high school graduation rates, college graduation rates going forward.”

The task force will look at models from both inside and outside Maine, including funding; and will make recommendations on “how such opportunities may be funded within existing resources,” according to the executive order.

The recommendations may include mandates, or they simply may outline models that school districts could choose to follow.

The task force also might suggest policies to highlight existing programs so the “pathways” are clear for students, Bowen said.

A program such as the five-year high school concept could be costly to implement, but Bowen said school boards and administrators have found ways to increase their offerings even in tough times.

“We’ve had budget cuts over the last few years, and yet we’ve seen schools finding ways to expand early college access,” he said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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