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News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in Compass, July 26, 2012
Local legislators help bring “Bridge Year” to Maine
Pilot program lets students earn degree one year sooner

Bridge Year Pilot Program

State Representative Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville), at left, helped design the Bridge Year Pilot Program announced by State Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, center, and Gov. Paul LePage at Hermon High School. State Senator Brian Langley (R-Ellsworth) also served on the project’s steering committee.

Photo courtesy of Ralph Chapman

by Anne Berleant

Fifteen Hermon High School juniors are the first Maine “Bridge Year” students in a pilot program that allows them to earn college credits while still in high school, earning an associate’s degree just one year after receiving their high school diplomas.

While similar programs exist for college-bound students focused on academics, this is the first program geared toward students looking for marketable, technical degrees.

State Representative Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville) and State Senator Brain Langley (R-Ellsworth) served on the steering committee that designed the program, which joins Hermon High School with three post-secondary schools: United Technologies Center, Eastern Maine Community College and the University of Maine.

What does this Penobscot County program mean for high school students on the Peninsula?

“At the start of the process, we had wanted to design a project that could…have a replicable process/program,” Chapman, who co-authored the project plan, wrote in a recent email.

Whether the Bridge Year program would be possible with George Stevens Academy and Deer Isle-Stonington High School would largely be determined by the interest of the two high schools and EMCC and Hancock County Technical Center in forming a partnership, Chapman explained.

“Three very immediate topics arise,” Chapman wrote. “The HCTC is run by the municipality of Ellsworth,” naturally bringing Ellsworth High School into the picture. “GSA and DISHS would have to want to have such a program, and scheduling and transportation logistics would have to be solved.”

Chapman mentioned Maine Maritime Academy as part of a possible expansion of the Bridge Year program on the Peninsula, “although the focus, so far, has been on the community colleges.”

The first step is determining the feasibility of the program. “In other words, find out where the unknowable-in-advance difficulties are, and figure out how to fix them before the program expands,” Chapman explained. “I suspect that some schools will want to see the results of the first several years of this program before committing to it themselves.”

According to Chapman, EMCC is the lead institution for tracking the students’ progress through data collection. While the University of Maine has the resources to handle research associated with the project, funding for the research has yet to be determined.

The project steering committee anticipates a continuing role in “guiding, assessing, modifying, and expanding the program,” Chapman wrote. “It is important to recognize that ‘replicable’ is not the same as ‘identical repeat.’”

The pilot program runs for three years, bringing the first 15 students from their junior year in high school to an associate’s degree in one year of post-high school college. And it has the support of Augusta behind it. “This is what it’s all about—exposing our kids to more opportunities,” said Gov. Paul LePage at a June 11 kick-off at Hermon High School.

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen also weighed in. With state and national research showing that students who take college level courses while in high school are more likely to graduate high school, enter college and complete college, “this goes a step further, mapping out a complete program, with college and career guidance, and a path that gets students to a degree and prepared for later success.”

Chapman summed it up in his email. “We are constantly looking for ways to remove the unnecessary barriers…students face.”

The Bridge Year project helps lessen one barrier for those seeking a technical degree: economic. Students enrolled in EMCC courses while in high school will pay only $20 per college credit; the normal rate for EMCC-enrolled students is $120. For their final year at EMCC, students will pay the full tuition rate.

Apart from the opportunity for high school students, the Bridge Year program has achieved a measurable success before it officially began.

“I believe the primary accomplishment has been to achieve a working group of people, from high levels of administration at four educational institutions that have historically operated fairly isolated from one another…in an effort to help students,” Chapman wrote.

As of July 1, those first 15 Hermon students were officially enrolled in EMCC, United Technologies Center and Hermon High School.