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August 31, 2000

High schoolers take Pitt courses through variety of programs here

If students on campus are looking younger these days, it might be because some of them are.

As part of its community service mission, Pitt has more than 80 educational outreach programs that serve the southwestern Pennsylvania region. Although these serve clients of all ages, from kindergartners to seniors, the largest number of the programs are directed toward area high schoolers.

According to Susan Harkins, director of the College Connections Center, more than 30 separate programs are aimed at high school students, from non-credit, one-day fun events and informal seminars to full-fledged, credit-granting academic programs designed to give secondary students a jump on college.

Following a trend at higher education institutions nationwide, Pitt offers credit-granting programs through the Summer Institute for High School Students, the Accelerated High School Student Program and the College in High School (CHS) program.

Harkins and College Connections Center co-director Jackie Batt administer the College in High School, the largest of the credit-granting programs, which annually enrolls more than 2,000 high school juniors and seniors from some 110 western Pennsylvania secondary schools. CHS students take courses at their high schools taught by teachers sanctioned by University departments. The courses carry Pitt credits and are offered at greatly reduced tuition.

"Jackie really runs the equivalent of a small liberal arts college here," Harkins said. "She handles registration and all the administrative tasks."

"We don't act as advisers — we let the high schools handle that," Batt said. "And we don't field academic questions — we let the participating [Pitt] departments handle that — but we're here as the go-between to coordinate the high school personnel and students and our faculty. We put high school teachers in touch with Pitt departments, and we get the students registered," she said.

Courses in math, computer science, communication, chemistry, statistics, French, English composition and physics are offered through the CHS, though not all courses are taught at every school. A pilot Latin course, coordinated by the classics department, is on the schedule for this year.

Harkins said, "The departments are absolutely committed that these be legitimate University of Pittsburgh courses." The courses are monitored by departmental liaisons at Pitt to ensure they are college-level, and students have to meet all prerequisites of the courses before they're admitted, she said. Each department evaluates the credentials of the teacher, helps in curriculum development and exam preparation and authorizes a one-year pilot course. Teachers who are approved are granted volunteer adjunct professor status in the department.

"There's real team work," Harkins said. "Exams, generally, are those given here at the University. Most courses are taught over two semesters, instead of one term here at Pitt. But that means students have more contact hours, and that's a good thing."

CHS students are issued Pitt ID cards, have use of Pitt facilities and library privileges and can open a computer account.

For completing the course, students earn regular Pitt credits that can be transferred to other institutions or applied to a Pitt degree, should a student later enroll here. "These credits are accepted by 95 percent of American institutions," Harkins said. The College Connections Center maintains a ready-reference list of institutions that have accepted CHS credits. Overall, CHS students earn the minimum grade required for credit (C-minus) about 85 percent of the time, she said.

"This program is not a recruiting tool," Batt said. "We don't connect the kids with our admissions people. But teachers often bring the students here. They check out the departments on campus; they usually spend at least a day here. They might get a lesson in math or go to the statistics or computer science labs or get a tour of the campus. It makes an impression. It's not the main focus, but they're exposed to the Pitt experience."

Harkins said that in fall 1999 243 former CHS students enrolled at Pitt and in fall 1998, 273 came here.

"Our goal really is to see that whatever institutions they go to, they go there with increased confidence," Harkins said. "College will not be so overwhelming. And earning the extra credits gives them some flexibility in their college choices."

"We do not really market CHS," Batt said. "But we have a very close relationship with the high schools; most times, they come to us to help develop these courses. Our reputation spreads by word of mouth."

Patrick Campbell, a physics teacher at Chartiers-Houston High School and a 1990 Pitt grad, approached the physics department three years ago about offering a college-credit physics course. The high school had a Pitt CHS calculus course in place, which is how Campbell learned of the program. After a pilot year, the course was approved for credit.

"Initially, there was a general meeting with Jackie and [physics department chair] Al Janis," Campbell said. "Physics has a fairly clear-cut curriculum, but we went over it carefully to make sure the course was college-level. The department didn't insist on a particular text, but there are three or four that are generally acceptable in the field."

Campbell said Chartiers-Houston has an Advanced Placement (AP) program in physics, but that the CHS was a viable alternative.

"It's not really in competition with AP. But in some ways it works better. I think students having tests that count throughout the year learn more than having to take one Advanced Placement test at the end of the year, when earlier material may be fuzzy."

Campbell called the CHS program, which enrolls about 10-12 students at Chartiers-Houston each year, an unqualified success.

"I was very happy to start this," he said. "I think it's worked extremely well. The course definitely helps students in their transition to college. We've come down to Allen Hall and visited the labs and facilities and had some people talk to the students, who are very responsive. They get a real feel for how advanced the work is that's being done. They learn that college is much more challenging than high school."

Campbell said the students are motivated by a variety of goals. "To be honest, I've had students say 'I'm taking this so I never have to take it in college.' But others say, 'I want to get a jump on credits in the sciences so that I can take more advanced courses when I get to college.'"

Grades of his students each year have been mostly Bs, Campbell said. "That's what you want: Not too easy. Not impossible. Just very challenging. But I think the main thing is students have flexibility when they do enroll in college," he said.

"I think we're raising the bar on the curriculum for the high school teachers," Harkins said. "High schools that offer a calculus course, for example, now want to offer calculus at the college level. And there's an advantage for our departments. Pitt faculty have told us they get a sense of what's going on in the high schools through this communication with the teachers. When new students come in, they have a sense of where the students are coming from. It's important to strengthen the communication between the two institutions and the CHS certainly helps with that."

Another academic outlet for high school students at Pitt is the Summer Institute for High School Students, which is home to three programs: the College Course Program, the Summer College for Advanced High School Students and the International College Experience Program.

The summer institute is overseen by a steering committee of faculty and administrative representatives from across the University, and is housed administratively under the Office of University Summer Sessions in the College of General Studies.

Julia Sawyer, director of the summer institute, said the programs have been growing slowly but steadily since the institute was established in 1997.

This summer, 55 students enrolled in the three programs, up from 47 last year. For the College Course and Summer College programs, students may live in the dorms by paying a residential fee, but most are commuters. About 20 percent of eligible students from the institute eventually matriculate at Pitt, Sawyer said.

All three programs require students to fill out application forms, including providing a high school transcript, a personal statement and recommendations from teachers or counselors on the student's intellectual abilities and English language proficiency.

The College Course Program allows high schoolers who have met prerequisites to take Summer Session credit-bearing courses offered at Pitt. Thirty-nine students enrolled in courses this summer, Sawyer said.

Similarly, the Summer College for Advanced High School Students allows qualified students to enroll in summer courses; but the program has a companion component of non-credit exploratory seminars, which emphasize the process of learning more than the subject matter, and are less formal in structure than typical courses. Students can earn a certificate of completion for the seminar courses, and usually take complementary for-credit courses during the summer sessions. Nine students enrolled in the program this summer.

"The International College Experience Program just completed its first year, and it really is our model and the one we'd like to see grow," Sawyer said. "This is really a strong pre-college program, open to high school sophomores and juniors. The students are highly qualified and are up to the rigors of the courses, which have an intensive 4-week, day-long course load."

The program is a collaboration among the summer institute, the University Center for International Studies, the University Honors College, the Schools of Engineering and Nursing, and the departments of biology, chemistry, economics and English, Sawyer said.

Seven students enrolled in the residential program, including two international students. Students are on a strict schedule, including having a curfew in their Litchfield Towers dorm.

Classes in the sciences, economics or engineering meet in the mornings, and students select either English as a Second Language or Freshman Research and Writing for the afternoons.

Students also have a good time, Sawyer said. "We go to the zoo and other cultural spots and we ride the buses around town just exploring the city and I even hosted a party at my house."

The summer institute has about $20,000 annually to offer for scholarships, Sawyer said. "Of course, we'd like that amount to go up. Smart kids are not always rich kids, and we want to help as many qualified students as we can."

Another option for advanced high schoolers is the Accelerated High School Student Program, administered through Arts and Sciences.

"We take a limited number of highly qualified students in the fall and spring terms," said Richard Wood, program adviser. "They are carefully screened; I interview them myself. They need to be mature and they need parental approval and the approval of the high school principal and guidance counselor."

Students can take one or two courses a term for credit, Wood said. Classes meet during the regular class hours on the Pittsburgh campus, so high schools need to work the students' schedules around Pitt's class times. Wood said typically Pitt admits about 10 students per term.

"The primary reason students come to this program is that they are at an academic level in a subject beyond what the high school is offering, usually in math or a foreign language," Wood said.

A $25 application fee and normal fees per credit are assessed. Students are registered as non-degree-seeking part-timers, but otherwise are full-fledged participants in the college experience. Credits are easily transferable, Wood said.

"They're not segregated in any way in class or in what they're expected to do. What the program offers is actual, in-class and on-campus college experience, which cannot be truly simulated," he said.

For more information on Pitt's community outreach programs, which reach about 67,000 people annually, visit the Web site: or call the College Connections Center at 624-6789.

–Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 33 Issue 1

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