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Middle college a win for students and families

August 17, 2013

Three of the greatest complaints about American education are the costs, that we are trailing other countries in science and math, and in our ability to get our kids into more intense fields of study at an earlier age.

One solution to all three problems is to blur the lines between high school and college, something Washington County Public Schools and Hagerstown Community College are already doing in what’s known as the ESSENCE program.

ESSENSE allows high school students to pick up college classes here and there, giving them a head start on higher education at a discount to what college credits would normally cost.

In a joint announcement last week, HCC President Guy Altieri and Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox announced a significant acceleration of the program, which will become known as the STEMM Technical Middle College.

Targeted high school students will be able to attend HCC full time in pursuit of certification or an associate degree, with emphases on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medical programs.

The advantages to this visionary plan are multiple. The transition from an industrial economy to a service economy has been well-documented. But where is a student to turn if the poorly paid service sector is not terribly appealing?

The answer: to sciences and technology, where new fields are rapidly developing and where educated talent is in demand.

And teenagers who can earn a degree or certificate at an earlier age can enter the workforce and start gaining valuable experience while their competition for future jobs are still sitting in college classrooms.

And if this weren’t enough of an incentive, the program will pay tangible rewards in dollars and cents.

We fear for the future of education, as the costs at traditional four-year schools have skyrocketed beyond the reach of many American families. And students who do attend these schools frequently exit with crippling student loan debt.

Not only are community colleges cheaper to begin with, but high school students who enroll in middle college can receive tuition discounts that can range from 50 percent to 100 percent.

Many parents, with good reason, live in fear of college costs, and the poor economy of the last decade made it harder to save toward those costs.

So this should be welcome news for families that had doubted their ability to pay for higher education. It is also an incentive for middle school and early high-school students to take their studies seriously so they are prepared to take advantage of this excellent deal.

The program will start small, but we expect it will grow significantly in a short amount of time. The current model of four-year degrees achieved only at a monumental cost simply cannot last.

We applaud Altieri and Wilcox for staying ahead of the curve and initiating what is truly a great public educational service for the families of Washington County.

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