Washington County Public Schools, HCC to unveil plan for STEMM Technical Middle College

August 09, 2013|By DON AINES |

Washington County Public Schools and Hagerstown Community College are poised to unveil a plan for a STEMM Technical Middle College that would enable qualified high school students to earn associate degrees or certifications in science and health programs while getting a tuition discount.

“It’s a full-time version of ESSENCE,” HCC President Guy Altieri said Wednesday.

The STEMM Technical Middle College “is two years of college before you get out of high school,” with a goal of students earning an associate degree, Altieri said.

ESSENCE — an early study program in which the college and school system have partnered for about a decade — enables high school students to earn college credits either at HCC or in classes at their home schools, Altieri said.

The middle college bears some similarities to the ESSENCE program, although the focus would be on Science, Technology, Engineering Math and Medical, or STEMM, programs, county Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Wednesday.

“For Dr. Altieri and I, this has been a sort of a dream,” Wilcox said.

The program could be a “trifecta” in that students could attend HCC at a discounted tuition, earn associate degrees or industry certifications and reduce the cost of a college education if they go on to a four-year institution.

“We’ll start to do some recruiting on our campuses this year,” Wilcox said. “We’ll start small and work the kinks out.”

Thirty or more high school students from across Washington County, mostly juniors, could be enrolled at HCC for the coming 2013-14 school year, with that number increasing to 60 or more in future years, Wilcox said.

The school system and college will work with high school principals to identify freshmen and sophomores who would concentrate on math and science courses in their home schools to prepare themselves for middle college, Wilcox said.

Each year in the county, more than 700 high school students participate in the ESSENCE program, most of them from public schools, Altieri said.

The others are county residents who are home-schooled or attend private schools, as well as some from outside the county and state, Altieri said.

In a semester, about 150 county students take one or more courses at HCC, while still attending their home schools, Altieri said. Another 150 or so take college courses at their home schools, he said.

STEMM Technical Middle College students would attend classes at HCC full time, and be able to take advantage of the professors, instructors and technology at the campus’s STEM building, Altieri said.

The addition of the students will require no new facilities construction, he said.

Students also will take college courses that can be applied to their high school graduation requirements, such as college English credits instead of a high school class in that subject, he said.

STEMM courses include biotechnology, cybersecurity, chemistry, computer science, engineering, math, alternative energy, premedical, prepharmacy, and simulation and digital entertainment, according to the student-parent manual.

Tuition discounts

Tuition discounts for middle college students would start at 25 percent for the first four courses a student takes, said Anne Shepard, the director of Grants Development at HCC.

The school system would provide an additional 10 percent discount, and students in the program would receive scholarship money to bring the discount for the first four courses to 50 percent, Altieri said.

Students determined to have high financial needs would be able to qualify for additional scholarship funds after completing the first four courses, Altieri said.

Those who qualify academically for middle college, and who are on the free and reduced lunch program, could have 100 percent of their tuition covered on the first four courses, Wilcox said.

Those academic qualifications include a 3.75 grade-point average, as well as a recommendation from the students’ high school principals, Altieri said.

Grant funding

The college recently was awarded a $629,192 five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to provide scholarships for students in STEM programs, Shepard wrote in an e-mail.

Additionally, HCC is one of six potential recipients of an Early College Innovation grant from the Maryland Department of Education, Shepard said.

The grant application was developed with the county school system, and, if awarded, could contribute another $387,258 to the middle college effort, she said.

Those two grants, as well as about $500,000 in HCC money, will help fund the middle school program over the next few years, Altieri said.

Due to the College Readiness and Completion Act of 2013, changes have been made to ESSENCE and other early college programs. The discount model for ESSENCE will be the same as for the middle college, Altieri said.

The proposal for the middle college will be presented to the Washington County Board of Education at its Aug. 20, meeting, Wilcox said.

Although there is no budget for the middle college at this time, Wilcox said he does not expect it to add significantly to what the school system pays for its ESSENCE students at HCC.

“We know that we spend several hundred thousand dollars a year on college tuition,” he said.

Wilcox said parents should know that middle college is “a way for their kids to jump-start the high cost of college” by earning credits, an associate degree or certification while still in high school.

Personal experience

Altieri was involved in starting up a middle college at Washetnaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1997.

His son, Ashley Altieri took part in the program and had earned an associate degree by the age of 17, which enabled him to complete a bachelor’s degree at 19 and earn a master’s degree by the time he was 21.

For students who want to enter the workforce after high school graduation, a degree or an industry certification could be the path to a good-paying job.

“Those certifications mean the world to industries,” Wilcox said.

It also could give students the flexibility to work in their fields while continuing their college education after high school, Wilcox said.

A middle college also would address concerns identified in a recent strategic economic development plan for the county, including the need for more people with post-secondary education in technical fields.

“There is no question that the enhancement of our work force with more and more persons who have college degrees in math and science and engineering will make our area more attractive for firms to locate here and expand,” he said.

An additional benefit to programs such as the Middle College and ESSENCE is relieving some of the pressure on the populations of the system’s high schools, Wilcox said.

Although a new high school costing $70 million or more might be needed in the future, enrolling students at HCC, the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts and the Washington County Technical High School can push that bill further into the future, he said.

If You Go ...

What: STEMM Middle College information sessions.

When: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 3-4:30 p.m.; Monday, Aug. 19, 5:30 to 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 22, at 4 p.m.

Where: Room 305, STEM Building, Hagerstown Community College.

For information: Contact Recruitment Coordinator Kevin Crawford at 240-500-2412, or by e-mail at

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