Lewiston to launch College Scholars program this fall

Lewiston High School’s school board has recently approved a plan to expand and formalize the work of College for ME by implementing a College Scholars program, set to begin this fall in collaboration with the University of Southern Maine.

This program allows students to spend the majority, if not all, of their school day on USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College (LAC) campus. College Scholars students will begin the morning as a cohort, taking their two remaining high school graduation prerequisites: senior English and American Government. The unique part? This handful of students will take their final high school classes, instructed by their high school teachers, on the college campus.

“I think we’re being nimble and entrepreneurial,” said Jan Phillips, executive director of College for ME, Androscoggin, which has been at the forefront of LHS’s early college efforts. “We want to build [the College Scholars program] so that university and high school teaching are going on on the same campus.”

In addition to their two final high school courses, College Scholars students will take, at minimum, two college classes at LAC. Some students, however, may choose to enroll in three or four LAC courses. According to Principal Gus LeBlanc, this program “can really be tailor-made.” Student athletes may attend a couple of college courses and still return to LHS for afternoon practices and games. Other students may want to fully immerse themselves in the college experience by taking additional LAC classes, spending time at the college library, and really treating the campus as their own.

One of the best parts of the program: “It’s dirt cheap,” LeBlanc said. The Lewiston School Department is using the state’s early college funds to offset the cost of the courses. Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch can take both college classes free of charge, and students who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch only have to pay the cost of their books.

“It’s a win-win for the university, us, and the kids,” LeBlanc explained. “We can get kids into college, get them up to a semester’s worth of college credit—maybe expand it a second year to include distinguished juniors. We could literally get some of our kids that could leave that program with a full year of college behind them.”

Governor Paul R. LePage has set aside funds in his proposed biennial budget to expand the state’s Aspirations program, allowing more students to gain post-secondary credit and experience before graduating from high school. Gov. LePage aims to double the amount of allowable credits students could attain through the program and allow homeschoolers access to the program.

“We are putting more money into Aspirations programs because it supports the kind of courses we know kids will take,” Bowen said.

About 40 rising seniors have expressed interest in the program, which can only accommodate 15 to 20 students in its pilot year. The College Scholars opportunity is too good to pass up for motivated, mature students who want to jumpstart their college career.

“We’re enabling students to change their venue…but at the same time preserve what for kids is an important time in high school: their senior year,” LeBlanc said.

By taking courses at LAC, students will have full access to the college experience—including its dynamic social spheres. “Being part of that chemistry of a whole mixture of people—it’s pretty powerful,” LeBlanc said.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen agrees: the in-person aspect of the program is crucial. “Being on campus has to be a part of this program,” Bowen said. “The kids are getting a strong sense of what it is to be a college student, and that bodes well for a smooth transition to post-secondary education in the future.”

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