August 9, 2008

Pa. Cuts County Tuition Payments By $48,000

By Robyn Meadows

Before they graduate from high school, dozens of county students begin earning college credits they will need to become doctors, lawyers, chefs, Web designers, physical therapists, teachers.

And, their tuition is paid with the help of state grants.

Public school districts recently learned how much money they are receiving this year from Pennsylvania for what are called dual enrollment programs.

Countywide, the state has awarded $272,448 to 15 school districts and the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center, according to the state Department of Education.

Last year, local public schools received $320,958.

The statewide allocation for dual enrollment is $10 million, the same amount as last year's.

Seven local public school districts garnered raises in dual enrollment funding for the 2008-09 school year, and Eastern Lancaster County School District is one of them.

Superintendent Robert Hollister said he's grateful.

But he is saddened that the state was not able to expand the program.

"I think it's one of the really strong programs that P.D.E. is advocating for," he said.

Some students don't think they have what it takes to go to college, so they don't try, he said.

Enrolling in a college course or two during their senior year in high school allows them to see how it goes.

"The student may find out college is not for them," Hollister said. "In many cases, it's the little nudge that kids and families need" to make the investment.

This year, Lancaster School District's dual enrollment grant dropped about one-third from its 2007-08 allocation - from $104,785 to $68,710.

"It's hugely disappointing," said Pam McCarty, coordinator for the Future Planning Center at McCaskey High School in Lancaster. "We tell students if they get a solid B, then they can take two courses in the spring, and they obviously won't be able to do that now."

The school district's business manager, Matt Przywara, said, however, the district is working hard to find another way to find funding for this school year.

State Department of Education spokesman Michael Race said the state uses a complicated formula when determining awards. It factors in wealth and student interest in the program.

Manheim Central School District did not apply for a dual enrollment grant this year because of shortage of staff to handle the program, according to a district spokesman.

Dual enrollment is part of an umbrella initiative called Project 720, aimed at high school reform.

It's named for the number of days students go to high school.

To set up dual enrollment programs, school districts form relationships with institutions of higher learning such as Millersville University and Harrisburg Area Community College.

Students leave their high schools each week to attend college classes. Some drive themselves or get rides from parents, and others take trains to their college campuses.

The School District of Lancaster, which has a 75-percent poverty rate among students across the district, pays the full cost of tuition for students who choose to give college a try while they are enrolled at McCaskey.

In other county high schools, parents pay the cost up front.

If their child earns at least a C in the college course, the district reimburses the parents - anywhere from 25 percent to 100 percent.

In many districts, students can begin taking the classes in their junior year. They can take more, if they do well, in their senior year.

"By the time some students graduate, they can have a semester of college for only a couple of hundred dollars," Hollister said. "It's an amazing opportunity."

(c) 2008 Intelligencer Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.