Partnership with HACC Lancaster campus expands Oxford’s Early College Academy offerings
By Steven Hoffman
The Oxford Area School District and the Lancaster campus of the Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) are launching an Early College Academy partnership that will offer new and affordable opportunities to high school students. Oxford students can start enrolling in the Early College Academy in time for the 2019-2020 school year that begins in August.
Oxford and HACC officials signed the agreement establishing the Early College Academy after a press conference at Oxford’s administration building on March 14.
“It is very important to our school system to create innovative pathways to make college more accessible and affordable for our students,” said Oxford Area School District superintendent David Woods. “We are very excited to be partnering with the Harrisburg Area Community College Lancaster campus.”
The Early College Academy provides high school students with the opportunity to build college coursework into their regular schedules as early as the ninth grade. Students simultaneously enroll in courses that fulfill high school graduation requirements and associate’s degree requirements.
Woods has prioritized increasing opportunities for students since he became Oxford’s superintendent in 2013. The school district began offering Early College Academy options in 2014, and they have been very beneficial for students.
Dr. Margaret Billings-Jones, the assistant superintendent for Oxford, said that 17 Oxford Area High School students are graduating from the Cecil College Early College Academy this year. As demand for these Early College Academy programs has grown, the school district has increased the number of partnerships so that students have choices regarding their academic pathways.
The Harrisburg Area Community College has a strong presence in Central Pennsylvania, with approximately 17,000 students enrolled at schools on its five campuses—Harrisburg, Gettysburg, York, Lebanon and Lancaster. At the Lancaster campus, there are approximately 4,300 students enrolled in a broad range of programs.
Oxford students who enroll in the Early College Academy with HACC can complete college coursework, starting in the ninth grade, while simultaneously completing the requirements for high school graduation. All the work is completed during the regular school day. During their freshman and sophomore years, students complete college courses onsite at their high school. When students reach their junior and senior years, they then take courses on the Lancaster campus of the Harrisburg Area Community College. The Oxford Area School District will provide transportation to and from the campus. The scheduling of the courses allows students to participate in co-curricular activities, such as sports, band, choir, or theater, while they are in high school.
Stephen Ampersand, Harrisburg Area Community College’s vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, said that he wanted HACC to establish a partnership with a Pennsylvania school district so that more students would have access to affordable opportunities when it comes to their education. Oxford and HACC officials worked on the agreement for about a year to ensure that there was a strong plan in place for students to succeed.
“We recognize that these students are starting their college studies at a young age,” Ampersand said. “HACC is committed to making sure that students not only receive a quality education, but also receive the tools and support they need to be successful throughout their enrollment.”
Applications for students to enroll in this Early College Academy will be available in the school guidance office. The application deadline is June 15 for the 2019-2020 school year. Students are required to have a 3.0 grade-point average or above to be eligible. They are also required to have completed Algebra 1 prior to the start of the ninth grade. Prior to the freshman year, Academy students will participate in a summer orientation program to introduce them to college life, academic expectations, and the resources available to them during the four years in the Early College Academy. High school and college advisors will work with students throughout their enrollment in the Early College Academy. Students will enroll in the general studies program, which maximizes the transferability of the credits that they earn.
It is anticipated that, each year, between 25 and 30 students from Oxford will be selected for admission to the Early College Academy with HACC.
Woods said that Oxford students and parents have been very pleased with the Early College Academy offerings that are already in place, and the agreement with HACC is set up so that the program will be very similar. He expects similar, good results.
“This is a proven method,” Woods said. “It’s another tool in the toolbox for the school district.”
One of the major advantages of the Early College Academy is that it gives high school students the chance to earn college credits while they are still in high school, reducing the number of credits that they will need to complete when they transition to their college careers. Students can complete up to 60 college credits while they are still in high school, and may earn an associate’s degree at the same time that they graduate from high school.
“This is an exciting partnership for the students in our school district,” Woods said. “The Harrisburg Area Community College is making it possible for Oxford students who want to jump-start college to do so.”
Victor Ramos, the HACC Lancaster campus vice president, talked about another major advantage to the Early College Academy—students will be able to complete college credits that are extremely affordable when compared to the costs of taking credits at a four-year university.
Over four years, the total cost of tuition is discounted for participants in the HACC Early College Academy. Families will pay approximately $7,500 for a total of 60 credits. Payment is made in eight installments over the four years that students are enrolled in high school. Eligible students may be able to secure scholarships in addition to tuition discounts. Families can also utilize Pennsylvania’s 529 Plan to help reduce out-of-pocket payments for education.
HACC officials also noted that the college has transfer agreements with many public and private colleges in Pennsylvania, as well as some out-of-state universities, so Oxford students will be able to transfer their credits when the time comes.
Billings-Jones said that a good working relationship has already been established between Oxford and HACC.
“It’s a wonderful group of people to work with,” Billings-Jones said.
Woods said that the additional opportunity for Oxford students, the affordability of the college credits, and the ability to earn those college credits while still in high school will all prove beneficial to students who choose the Early College Academy.
“For our students,” Woods said, “It’s a win, win, win.”