Arnn is a Cape Central High School junior pursuing her Associate of Arts simultaneously with her high school degree through the Accelerated Collegiate Experience (ACE) program at Cape College Center (CCC).
“Getting the chance to be two years ahead is a really good plan for me,” she said.
Arnn is one of five Cape Central High School students enrolled in the pilot year of this program which was open to select Cape Central students in its inaugural year. The five opted to spend their junior and senior years in the program and will earn an Associate of Arts or the CORE 42 through coursework offered by Southeast Missouri State University and Three Rivers College (TRC) at the same time they complete their high school degree.
The program is an opportunity for the students to jump-start their college goals, said Dr. Tony Robinson, deputy superintendent of secondary education with the Cape Girardeau Public Schools.
“The program helps all students, including first-generation college students or struggling students, by giving them the experiences and opportunities to be successful, and help them to transition and be successful at a four-year college,” he said. “The students have worked very hard this first year, and they love the college environment we’ve created for them.”
The CCC provides a personalized and comprehensive setting for the students to flourish, said Tinea Ortega, coordinator of academic programs at the CCC.
“The program allows students from different backgrounds and skill levels the opportunity to pursue their higher education dreams and goals within an early college environment,” she said. “In two years, they’ll not only graduate from high school, but have a significant portion of their college course work complete, allowing them to get a head start on their post-secondary education and career-readiness.”
The program is modeled after the college environment. The students are enrolled in 15 credit hours each semester offered by TRC and Southeast faculty at the CCC. The classes are part of the regular Cape College Center schedule with the Cape Central students integrated with other CCC college students.
The curriculum and faculty provide a focused and supportive environment, said Alexa “AJ” Cook.
“We are all focused on continuing our education and not just because we have to, but because we want to,” Cook said.
“It’s really about the material,” added Arnn. “You really have to learn the material to pass your tests and projects.”
Student success is the program’s focus, Ortega said.
The students meet regularly with a Cape Girardeau Public Schools counselor and receive academic advising from both the CCC and the Cape Girardeau Public Schools. The students also have access to tutoring services offered at the CCC along with other Southeast resources, including Disability Services, the Center for Writing Excellence and Kent Library at Southeast.
“We strive to give the students personal support and guidance throughout every aspect of their journey with us,” Ortega said.
“Having the high school counselors continue to be a part of the process and provide support and a connection between Cape Central and the Cape College Center and been a big part of the program’s success,” added Robinson.
The program is a great opportunity for students from all skill levels, emphasized Cook, who found she flourished in the college-model environment.
“I struggled a lot with high school, and it was difficult for me to understand the curriculum,” she said. “But after one semester in this program, my GPA has increased by half a point.”
For Maria Enderle, completing the ACE program allows her to take the next steps towards independence and employment.
“There’s a lot of options out there, and I’m already researching jobs that require an associate’s degree and some experience,” Enderle said. “Those jobs will be so helpful for me when I do turn 18 and can support myself and continue my education.”
Enderle hopes to continue her education in animal studies, and the program also allows her to research her interests in this field and chart her degree path.
“I’m not sure exactly what I want to do, but that’s also why this program helps because it gives me the leeway to explore my options early,” she said. “Graduating with my associate’s already will allow me to figure out what I want to do going forward.”
Cook hopes to leverage the classes she’s completed at the CCC and have a leg up when she continues to pursue the musical theatre program at Southeast.
“Southeast has an amazing theatre program, but you have to be dedicated,” Cook said. “By being in this program, I’ll complete some of those credits I would have stressed out about and can focus on my theatre degree or even have time to pick up a minor in something else I like too.”
The program is open to all juniors to apply for the 2019-2020 school year. Robinson says the program has been positively received, and the CCC is already receiving applications for next school year.
“We’re very proud to offer this unique opportunity for the Cape Girardeau community,” Robinson said. “Providing these opportunities for our kids is a great thing for the schools and our community.”
It’s really exciting to see how this program has and will continue to help students reach and achieve their academic and personal goals, added Ortega
“As we expand, we hope to increase college access and career readiness for more students, and hopefully help our community continue to grow and prosper from their successes,” she said.
With her first year with the ACE program soon coming to an end, Arrn is already looking forward to next year.
“I want to start a mentor program next year to help the new students,” she said. “There’s a lot of things we’ve learned this year that can be useful, and we can all support one another.”
To enroll in the Accelerate Collegiate Experience program, students must be at least 16 years old, receive approval to participate from the Cape Girardeau Public School principal, have at least a 2.5 high school grade point average and take a placement test to be eligible. As part of the agreement, the Cape Girardeau Public Schools cover students’ tuition in the Early College Program. The Cape Girardeau Public Schools pay their tuition at Southeast’s dual credit rate, which is currently $95 per credit hour. Students are responsible for covering textbook rental fees and supplies.
For more information on the program, contact Seth Ward, Southeast director of dual credit and dual enrollment, at (573) 986-6176 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://capecollegecenter.semo.edu/early-college-program/.
About the Cape College Center:
The Cape College Center is located in the Cape Career and Technology Center (CTC) at 1080 S. Silver Springs Road in Cape Girardeau. The CCC is a partnership between Southeast Missouri State University, Three Rivers College and Mineral Area College, and is an open enrollment higher education center, providing community college-type services to the citizens of Cape Girardeau County and the CTC service region. At Cape College Center, students get the benefit of a college education with personalized service; a great start to college at an affordable cost, allowing their financial aid to go further; and help in achieving college success.