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Universities forge alliance to keep
high school co-ops meaningful
December 14, 1998

Last year, nearly 2,800 students from 113 high schools around the state completed more than 8,000 college-level courses through the University of Connecticut.

Students took the courses in UConn's High School Cooperative Program, designed to offer academically talented high school students the opportunity to take college level courses at their schools. Taught by high school teachers, the program, created in 1955, is the oldest known of its type in the country.

Courses are offered in a variety of disciplines: anthropology, art, biology, chemistry, classics, computer science, English, economics, French, German, history, Italian, mathematics, music, political science, physics, sociology, Spanish, and statistics. Each course offered has a UConn faculty coordinator, who provides support and workshops for the high school teachers. Students follow a university-approved syllabus, and those who later enroll at UConn are given credit for the courses. Other universities may give transfer credit for courses, but some do not.

A new organization, the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, has been established to address national standards for credit acceptance and other issues. Jennifer Hethcote, program manager of UConn's High School Cooperative Program, has been working closely with the alliance. "We're developing a variety of standards for course content and evaluation," she says. "We want to make sure that all universities have strong programs."

There is a competitive certification process for teachers, Hethcote explains. Treated as adjunct faculty, the teachers must apply to the University and are interviewed before gaining approval to teach the co-op courses.

"We look for teachers who have recommendation letters or videos that speak to their teaching abilities," Hethcote says. They must have at least a master's degree in their discipline and, in some cases, must pass an exam. The alliance is also considering setting standards for teacher selection.

The program is now being fine-tuned to ensure the courses are consistently comparable to courses offered to full time students at UConn.

"We're working with UConn coordinators for each subject to develop a 'gate' that will measure whether the student knows the material at the level of a UConn student taking the course," says John Bennett, director of Academic Experience. That 'gate' will determine whether UConn credit is awarded. Bennett says he hopes this system will be in place next year.

Staff in the High School Cooperative Program are working closely with officials in UConn's Honors Program and admissions office to recruit these students to the University. They also are working with administrators at Homer Babbidge Library to potentially extend library privileges to co-op participants.

"We're strengthening the University's partnership with high school guidance counselors, teachers, and students," Hethcote says. "We have more personalized contact with participants and have been providing opportunities for teachers and students to visit the University."

Last spring, for example, a special event was held for participating students, at which they could attend a college class and talk informally with honors students during a luncheon. It must have worked - immediately after the event, two participants decided UConn was now a first-choice school, Hethcote says.

Sherry Fisher