IU East launches College Now program to provide free college courses to high school students

IU East, First Bank Richmond and the Wayne County Foundation partner to provide opportunities for underserved high school students in Wayne County

High school students across Wayne County now have the opportunity to take free college courses through a new program at Indiana University East. The program is funded by the Wayne County Foundation and First Bank Richmond.

Graphic on the College Now dual credit program

College Now is a free dual-credit program that will benefit Wayne County high school students and will in turn introduce them to the college environment, stimulate learning and encourage future academic achievement.

College Now is a program designed to benefit area high school students by providing free college-credit courses that in turn, introduces them to the college environment, stimulates learning and encourages future academic achievement.

The program first began as a pilot program in 2019 with Western Wayne Schools and Northeastern Wayne Schools to help meet the districts’ needs for college-level courses. College Now proved so successful that it will include all six Wayne County high schools in the spring 2022 semester.

IU East Chancellor Kathy Girten said she is very excited about the College Now program and the opportunity it offers high school students across Wayne County. Girten added that the program would not be possible without the support of Wayne County Foundation and First Bank Richmond.

“The College Now program, and the partnership to put this program together, is just one example demonstrating that our community is behind our efforts at IU East,” Girten said. “We are thrilled to offer this program to high school juniors and seniors and thankful for First Bank and Wayne County Foundation’s investment in our community’s future.”

The program is available to juniors and seniors attending Centerville High School, Hagerstown High School, Lincoln High School, Northeastern High School, Richmond High School or Seton High School. Each of the high schools can enroll up to 15 students in two courses per semester. Program organizers allotted Richmond High School up to 30 students due to the size of the corporation.

School guidance counselors will work with students who may be eligible to participate in the program. The program is designed to primarily serve first-generation college students or students from underserved families (including minority or students receiving free and reduced lunch).

Students should have a minimum 2.5 GPA and completing their Core 40 or Academic Honors diploma.

“We are especially looking to serve students who have potential, but may not have considered college, creating an early pathway that can open up horizons for students who may not have had college on their radar,” Girten said. “We are pleased that the community supports the program with funding, but more importantly, recognizes the value an experience like this can offer. The key to this program is that the high school students are not only doing college-level work, but they are in college classes with other college students—providing a unique experience.”

Dual-credit offerings include a wide array of courses such as math, psychology, sociology, English, criminal justice, public speaking, history and fine arts.

Wayne County Foundation, First Bank Richmond provide funding for College Now

The College Now program is free to area high school students because of the support of the Wayne County Foundation and First Bank Richmond.

The Wayne County Foundation has agreed to support the program with $100,000 in annual scholarships over the next two years. First Bank Richmond provided an additional $100,000 in funding toward the program. The scholarships reduce the tuition paid by the school districts and help make the program tuition-free for students and their families.

Photo of two girls walking together on the IU East campus in front of a building in the quad.

College Now is available to Wayne County high schools and provided for free with the support of the Wayne County Foundation and First Bank Richmond.

“Our board was very encouraged by IU East’s College Now proposal,” said Rebecca Gilliam, executive director for the Wayne County Foundation. “We fully support expanding dual-credit opportunities across our county and access for all of our students at all socio-economic levels. In addition, this programming aligns directly with Forward Wayne County’s goal of increasing educational attainment rates in Wayne County. Gaining dual-credit could be the catalyst to increasing those rates, as well as encouraging those students to pursue additional education that may not have otherwise.”

Garry Kleer, chairman, president and CEO of First Bank Richmond, said investing in the College Now program was a clear choice. First Bank Richmond has established itself as a primary supporter of higher education in the community, providing philanthropic giving and support for the university in recognition of its role to provide an enhanced quality of life for its residents and the communities it serves.

“IU East and Wayne County schools have a vision for this program to give high school students a head start on achieving their college aspirations right here at home,” Kleer said. “The College Now program offers students the opportunity to try college in an environment built for their success. We are proud to support this program and to see where it leads to next.”

Jason Troutwine, vice chancellor for External Affairs, has worked with the districts and community partners from the onset of developing the pilot program. Those conversations began over three years ago.

“It’s taken a lot of time to work through every detail but this program has the opportunity to change a student’s life by helping them reach their full potential…and, that’s exciting,” Troutwine said. “We are especially thankful to the Wayne County Foundation and to First Bank Richmond for supporting this program and recognizing the benefits it brings to students and our communities across the county.”

The pilot program started with Western Wayne Schools and Northeastern Wayne Schools

Superintendent for Northeastern Wayne Schools, Matthew Hicks, outlined the start of the partnership that began with George Philhower, the former superintendent at Western Wayne Schools. Philhower is now the superintendent at Eastern Hancock Schools. Philhower invited IU East to explore ideas to create an early college program for Western Wayne students. Philhower later invited Northeastern to the table. That discussion led to the creation of College Now, which began as a pilot program at Western Wayne (Lincoln High School) and Northeastern in 2019.

“The district was in the early stages of talks about partnering on dual credit with IU East,” Hicks said. “IU East was very collaborative and generous and put together a program that has been beneficial to our students.”

Renee Lakes, principal at Lincoln Middle/High School (Western Wayne), was part of those early discussions and helped to work through the program details. Lakes said Philhower initiated the meetings with IU East when the district realized there was a need to provide students with as many opportunities as possible while they are still in high school.

“Being a small district we are sometimes limited by the classes we can offer to our students, especially our college bound students. We wanted to provide our students with a real college experience on a college campus while still in high school so we partnered with Northeastern Wayne Schools and reached out to IU East to create a program that would benefit everyone,” Lakes said. “We outlined what we were looking for and we created the plan together. This is our third year now and it is amazing.”

Hicks said Northeastern Wayne schools faced many of the same issues, and IU East was able to help provide the faculty and courses that high school students would otherwise not had access to attend.

“As a smaller high school, we wanted to be able to offer our students expanded dual-credit options across disciplines. Our schedule and staff size did not afford us the opportunity to do so otherwise,” Hicks said. “IU East was able to look at their courses and their instructors and find a natural fit to support our high school students as they took university level classes with extra support to receive both high school and IU credit.”

Organizers developed the pilot program to help meet the needs of both districts. To do this, the districts identified the students who would benefit from the program and coordinated transportation from the schools to the Richmond campus. IU East went to work putting everything together from the courses offerings to assisting students through the enrollment process.

Troutwine said the planning group was able to identify and solve several logistical issues in order to create a plan that worked for everyone. “There were several things to consider – such as school breaks, class schedules and credits, transportation, enrollment processes and, of course, financial considerations. But, the great thing about this process is that everyone was had one goal in mind — helping students.”

Hicks agreed that the process worked well for the schools. “Northeastern and Lincoln were given a high level of input in terms of what our needs were across disciplines. We also were given input on what time those classes could be to work within both of the high school day schedules while considering the IU East day schedule. It was an intricate puzzle to put together, but all parties were collaborative throughout to solve it.”

The plan was to bring the high school students to campus to learn in the classroom directly from the faculty and right alongside college students. The on-campus approach to high school students attending college courses meant more than the students receiving dual credit, they also directly experienced campus and what a college experience offers.

“We need to provide our students with opportunities to earn college credit as well as experience what college is like while they still had our support.  We called it ‘College with Training Wheels,’” Lake said. “This is a much different opportunity than traditional dual credit classes. Students got to attend classes at IU East with college students and experienced what school beyond high school will be like.”

As the pilot program got underway there were challenges for students, the school districts and IU East that had to be worked through in order for the program to be successful. For example, weather delays and closings for the school districts posed an issue to transport their students to the campus while classes remained in session at the college. Lakes agreed the transportation was a hurdle for the district to jump over in the beginning of the pilot program.

“We didn’t want our students to drive themselves because we didn’t want to allow transportation to limit any student from being able to attend. Once we got that worked out it was great,” Lakes said. “One of the great things that IU East did for us was they gave us specific classes and specific instructors that they felt would be great for our kids. They carefully chose the classes and instructors with the knowledge that these are still high school students. This was a huge benefit for our kids.”

The districts and IU East realized that for 17- to 18-year-olds still in high school, a college classroom could be an intimidating place and uncertain expectations for coursework or academic performance.

Both the districts and IU East worked to make the campus and classrooms a welcoming environment for the students.

“As high school students, there was healthy trepidation on the part of our students in regard to stepping on to campus. IU East’s faculty was incredibly welcoming and supportive of our students and the program continues to see students participate,” Hicks said.

Lakes shared the experience of one of the first students to participate in the pilot program.

“The students found the course work challenging but they did very well,” Lakes said. “Dylan McCullum, Lincoln Class of 2020, stated that he was nervous to go away to college but after taking classes at IU East as a senior he felt he knew what to expect from college and was much more confident going away to college. He said that it was much different than dual credit and he would never trade the experience for anything!”

Troutwine said IU East is prepared to meet the challenges the districts, or students, may have in order to provide the dual-credit courses needed and to have a positive impact to their initial college experience. Even when the pandemic hit in 2020, the districts and IU East continued to work through the issues to keep the program on course, and students in the classroom when the university transitioned all of its in-person courses to online.

“These first two years provided us an opportunity to work through any hurdles – such as a global pandemic – and build a program that can be offered to all of the schools in Wayne County. We are very grateful for Western Wayne and Northeastern’s leadership role in forming this program and are excited to make it available to all the schools in Wayne County next semester,” Troutwine said.

With all schools in the county now participating, Troutwine said the College Now program could provide free college classes to over 100 high school students each semester. “It’s possible that some students could participate in this program their junior and senior years and graduate high school with a full year of college already complete. That’s a big head start toward earning a college degree.”

Lakes said she feels students benefit greatly from the College Now program.

“Not only do they earn free college credit, high school credit, and they get to experience what college is like with a safety net so to speak. Many of our students who took classes at IU East during high school chose to attend IU East after high school which is a benefit to the community,” Lakes said.

Hicks said the district’s students will continue to work toward having more post-secondary credits prior to graduation because it is a tremendous benefit to them and their families.

“The research on obtaining credits while in high school and its impact on finishing a degree or credential is substantial. For students who are going to attend university, they are able to take the courses at the school district’s expense and IU East has worked to make the cost incredibly generous for the district,” Hicks said. “This saves our students and our families a great deal of money over the course of the four semesters they could be taking courses. The additional benefit for our community is that our students see first-hand that staying in Wayne County and attending IU East is a real option.”

The program is one that both districts say they will continue, and now that funding for the classes is available with support from the Wayne County Foundation and First Bank Richmond, it makes it even more possible for the students who need it the most.

For Hicks, he said the district’s goal is to dovetail this program into its goal of having more students graduate with the Indiana Core completed so they are awarded credit for a year of college upon completion. “IU East has been working with Northeastern to put together a plan to help move this initiative forward and we hope to bring it online in the coming year,” he said.

For Lakes, the program is meeting the needs of its students.

“College Now is amazing. It offers our kids things we would never be able to offer otherwise,” Lakes said. “IU East has been amazing to work with and the staff there has bent over backwards to get our input and support our students. I am looking forward to where this will take us in the future!”

For more information about College Now!, visit iue.edu/collegenow.