Bowen shares plans for five-year high school expansion

At an event to showcase Hermon’s Bridge Year program to area legislators on Friday, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen told the audience the program is so promising that Gov. Paul R. LePage has included money in his proposed budget to replicate it in schools statewide.

Bridge Year allows students to attain both their high school diploma and an associate’s degree in five years. Fourteen students are enrolled in the program’s pilot year. They will earn 29.5 credits—equivalent to about a year of college—during their junior and senior years of high school. They will then have the opportunity to enroll in EMCC and graduate with an associate’s degree in applied science within a year – saving them the time and money that is normally required.

According to Bowen, the Governor’s proposed two-year budget includes $1 million in each year to replicate the program in other areas of the state. The funds would help offset tuition costs at the community colleges and cover other aspects of the program. Bowen praised the local answer to the Governor’s push for a five-year high school/associate’s degree option for students.

“Let’s think about how this started,” Bowen said. “I didn’t do anything. We didn’t do anything in Augusta. It was a group of folks who knew this was the right thing to do for kids. This happened because this group of people got together. The governor does have an item related to this in the biennial budget that he’d like to see. This is a game-changer.”

Students in the program gave legislators a tour of the building and talked about their experiences in the program. Other speakers included parents, teachers and administrators involved in the program.

The Bridge Year program is a collaboration that includes: the United Technologies Center, a career and technical education school in Bangor; Eastern Maine Community College; and the University of Maine, Orono. The University of Maine has agreed to accept transfer of all credits earned through the program for students who are interested in attaining a four-year degree after the community college. UTC and Hermon are working closely together on the coursework.

As part of Governor LePage’s education agenda, he established a task force to examine early college programs, and that task force issued a report in January 2012: www.maine.gov/doe/earlycollege/.

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