UMass Plans Free and Online Early College Program for High School Students; Lowell in Pilot

UMass President Marty Meehan, right, shares a thought with former UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney in Haverhill. (WHAV News file photograph.)

UMass is developing a pilot online early college program that, like its community college counterparts, would provide high school students a free one-year head start on earning 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 by the Smith Family Foundation and conducted by UMass over the past year. The first phase includes UMass Lowell.

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

Named the Commonwealth Collegiate Academy of the University of Massachusetts, the initiative aims to increase college participation among first generation, low-income, and students of color. The program will enable students to complete 30 credits—or one full year—of UMass courses while simultaneously satisfying high school graduation requirements.

Unlike most early college programs in Massachusetts and across the country, the CCA will not be constrained by geography. Instead, curriculum will be delivered through an innovative “live” technology that connects UMass instructors to high school students in real time. The students will receive university 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 interactions.

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

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

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