UMass Plans Free, online college curriculum for high school students; Lowell in the pilot

UMass is developing an online college pilot program that, like its community college counterparts, would offer high school students a free one-year advance toward a college degree.

The University of Massachusetts received a $330,000 grant from the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation to support development of the pilot. The planning grant builds on a $70,000 feasibility study for the early college program, also paid for by the Smith Family Foundation and conducted by UMass over the past year. The first phase includes UMass Lowell.

“Keeping higher education opportunities affordable and accessible requires new and innovative strategies,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “With Commonwealth Collegiate Academy, we want to build on existing partnerships and create new ones to reduce the barriers that prevent too many young people from achieving their college aspirations.”

Named the Commonwealth Collegiate Academy at the University of Massachusetts, the initiative aims to increase college participation for first-generation, low-income, and students of color. The program will allow students to complete 30 credits – or a full year – of UMass coursework while simultaneously meeting high school graduation requirements.

Unlike most early university programs in Massachusetts and the country, CCA will not be limited by geography. Instead, the program will be delivered through innovative “live” technology that connects UMass instructors with high school students in real time. Students will receive academic lectures during the regular school day and will be supported by teams of high school instructors who will provide labs, discussion sections, and other face-to-face academic interaction.

The planning grant will support partnership building, training, and outreach activities with UMass campuses and partner high schools. The initiative will then seek additional grants through the state’s early college program to pay for the instruction of 500 students in the Merrimack Valley and South Coast areas.

Currently, 42 Massachusetts accredited high schools partner with 22 institutions of higher education to serve approximately 4,500 young students. More than half of all first-time students in Massachusetts identify as African American/Black or Hispanic/Latino, and many are the first in their families to attend college. However, more than 80% of high school students in Massachusetts do not have access to an accredited college program, and few of these students live within reasonable distance of an institution of higher education.

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