Amy Lapierre sat on the bleachers at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, adjusting the tassel on her cap. She was surrounded by graduates who are years older than her getting ready to line up, and she nervously peered through the crowd looking for her classmate, Reid Lanpher.
On May 14, Lapierre and Lanpher, both 18 years old, marched for their associate degrees from Thomas. On June 12, they will march for their high school diploma from Maranacook Community High School in Readfield, Maine.
The pair was able to graduate with a college degree while still in high school because of an innovative partnership between Thomas and Maranacook called Pathways. The Pathways Program allows juniors and seniors in high school who have a high school GPA of 3.0, a demonstrated capacity for college work and a recommendation of the high school guidance counselor, to pursue their associate degrees at Thomas while completing the requirements for their high school diploma at Maranacook.
“I would never have guessed that this is where I would be at 18 years old,” said Lapierre. “My parents always told me that I can do whatever I put my mind to, and now I see that they were right.”
The Pathways Program consists of courses on campus in a one-week intensive format in the summer, online courses delivered by Thomas College faculty to Maranacook students, and Dual Enrollment courses delivered at Maranacook by instructors who meet Thomas College requirements as adjunct instructors. The program is offered at no cost to students or their families.
The goals of the program, which began in January 2016, are to encourage college aspirations among Maine high school students, provide a pathway toward college credit and college completion and provide an opportunity to significantly cut the costs of obtaining a college degree.
“We know that early college options work for students,” said Thomas College Provost Thomas Edwards. “Pathways provides a great way to increase college access while decreasing college costs. Once we remove the boundaries of how and where students can complete college-level work, the possibilities are endless.”
The Pathways Program builds on the Dual Enrollment collaboration that Thomas College offers to over 20 local high schools in Maine, including Maranacook. Junior and senior high school students take Thomas College college-level courses valued at $650 per college credit at their own high school. Instructors are selected by the high school and approved by Thomas College to administer the courses. At the completion of the course, students will earn Thomas College credit, which can be applied to any major at Thomas or to any other college they may choose to attend.
In the 2015-16 school year, nearly 1,000 Maine high school students participated in Thomas College Dual Enrollment courses.
Pathways combines these Dual Enrollment courses into a coherent package leading to the associate degree.
Maranacook High School is located in rural Maine, on the outskirts of the state’s capital, Augusta. For many of these high school students, college is not something they think about or consider; if they do go to college, they are often the first in their family to do so. Many students will pay their own way through college.
The Pathways Program not only gets them to consider looking into college opportunities—it helps support those aspirations by directly reducing college costs.
A key component of supporting college aspirations is by inviting students to participate in Thomas College Institutes: intensive one-week courses held on campus in the summer.
In June of 2016, more than 80 high school students from across Maine will be in classrooms on campus, interacting with college faculty in a college environment.
Maranacook High School Principal Dwayne Conway says he is excited how much the summer intensive courses, and especially the Pathways Program, will prepare his students for college, and for the money it will save the families.
“This program gets students interested in college early and keeps them interested,” said Conway. “This program is a win for my students, but also a win for Thomas College. Pathways saves Maranacook families thousands in tuition costs, while exposing these students to some of the innovative efforts at Thomas College.”
Promoting access and aspirations and cutting costs
Lapierre and Lanpher are the first to complete their associate degree. The full Pathways program will begin with 10 new students accepted for 2016-17.
In the future, the program may be offered to other area schools.
“We are thrilled that Amy and Reid took advantage of this program,” said Edwards, the provost. “Through their hard work and dedication paired with the collaboration between the two schools, we are so happy they were given this opportunity.”
Lanpher is using his associate from Thomas to start working for the family business after graduation. Lapierre will attend Thomas College in the fall to begin working on her bachelor of science in accounting.
MacKenzie Riley works in media relations at Thomas College.