The Maine workforce of the future needs to be an educated one. However, the pipeline for college completion in Maine still faces some challenges. Early college access may be one of the solutions.

“By 2018, the demand for college-educated workers in Maine is projected to be seven times greater than for high school graduates,” according to Educate Maine’s 2016 Education Indicators Report for Maine. However, only 30 percent of Maine high school grads graduate from a two- or four-year college. Thirteen percent won’t even graduate from high school, and more than half will drop out of college after their first year.

Earlier this month, the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel published an editorial about early college options as a response to these challenges (“Our View: Early college makes the most of Maine students,” March 12). At Thomas College, we also think early college programs are critical — for the future of Maine students and for the prosperity of Maine. Early college programs provide access, affordability, preparedness, and success for students.

The Thomas College dual enrollment program is a unique opportunity for high schools to provide their students early college access in the supportive environment of their high school at no cost to the high school or student.

Thomas College began offering dual enrollment courses to local high schools in 2010. Since then, the program has grown to 23 schools and more than 700 students annually.

Thomas College was an early entrant into what is now a national trend. Early college programs represent a paradigm shift: essentially, students earn high school credit for college-level work. Dual enrollment provides students with more skills, readiness and a higher chance of attending college after graduation.

Good dual enrollment programs recognize a proficiency-based approach. Students earn credit regardless of place and time, as long as they meet the standard.

Early college programs like those at Thomas College promote both college affordability and college access. Making college credit accessible to Maine students in their schools can inspire more students to view themselves as college ready. And when they enter college, those credits help cut the cost of their degree.

The most exciting example of this initiative might be the Pathways Program, a partnership between Maranacook Community High School and Thomas. Under the Pathways program, Maranacook students can earn up to an associate’s degree while still in high school.

And what happens to these students once they have these kinds of early college experiences? They succeed. We see this now at Thomas College, where our Kiest-Morgan Scholars can complete a traditional four-year degree in three years or less.

For high-achieving, highly motivated students, early college programs like those at Thomas provide a path forward.

Thomas Edwards is provost of Thomas College.


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