Early college participation is soaring in the state of Maine: Over the past five years, the number of high school enrollees in Maine’s community colleges report has increased by 71 percent.
“We see a lot of increased activity throughout our dual-enrollment efforts,” says Mercedes Pour, who oversees early college programs for the Maine Community College System. “The reasons for this are really very similar to those big reasons that are driving dual-enrollment nationally.”
For years, the state’s famous coastline and woodlands were the sites of robust maritime and forest-products industries offering good-paying jobs to high school graduates. Today, as in the rest of the nation, Maine’s job market is changing, with traditional industries declining and demand growing for workers with postsecondary degrees and credentials.
To get more high school students onto the college track, state education officials began to focus on early outreach. In 2003, the Maine Community College System implemented Early College for ME (ECforME), a dual-enrollment program targeting low-income, first-generation and rural students.
“[ECforME] is a comprehensive program where we meet the students in their junior year and we start talking about what their goals are,” Pour says. “If we can align some of their goals and their aspirations with college, we help those students negotiate college admissions and financial aid applications and then really try to walk them through all of the steps they have to take to make it to a college campus.”
Maine’s early college success, by the numbers
Since its start, ECforME has served, 8,202 students, of which 2,612 have gone on to enroll in a Maine community college. The program provides those students with scholarships of up to $2,000 for a two-year community college program, or $1,000 for a one-year program.
The on-time graduation for the ECforME’s 2013–14 cohort was 17 percent — more than triple the national average of 5 percent for associate degree earners. Retention rates have also been impressive: Between 2010 and 2013, 67 percent of students who entered community colleges through the program were still enrolled the following fall.
As successful as ECforME has been, Pour says Maine community college administrators realized the traditional dual-enrollment model alone — in which high school students commute to college campuses to take classes — was not reaching enough students. So administrators have been promoting concurrent enrollment, which allows high schools students to earn college credit in classes held on their own campuses.
Tips for a successful dual-enrollment program
For other community college administrators looking to create their own early college success stories, Pour offers two key takeaways:
- “Making the connection to the college a little bit more explicit is something that can only help us and help our students,” she says. Toward that end, ECforME administrators are considering tweaking the program to add admissions counselors and academic advisers to the list of community college representatives who are dispatched to high school campuses. An adviser, for example, could be on hand to explain to a student how a particular dual-enrollment course fits into a typical college degree program in a particular discipline.
- “The other thing we need to be aware of, when we’re speaking about concurrent enrollment, is just that it’s not a magic bullet,” Pour says. “The one thing we have to remember about concurrent enrollment is that it is not comprehensive. Students are not necessarily touching all of the areas of college attendance that an on-campus dual-enrollment has them touch. I mean buying their books at the bookstore. I mean getting to campus. Those are the things that can actually derail students. It’s not always course content.”
As the early college experience is made available to a broader range of students — including many who are less academically prepared than traditional dually enrolled students — Pour says it’s essential that community colleges create plans to help those students develop the necessary skills for success.
Photo courtesy of Maine Community College System. Nicholas Bazinet is a first-year liberal studies student at Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC) in Bangor. During his senior year at Bangor High School, he took an early course.