Getting a jump-start on higher education [Commentary]

One of the goals we’ve set for ourselves as the Howard County Public School System is to provide all students with equitable opportunities to earn college credits or industry certification.

We know that high school graduates with early college experience are significantly more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college or begin successful careers. The Board of Education voted recently to move forward with the JumpStart initiative, a significant expansion of our partnership with Howard Community College that will more than double dual-enrollment opportunities for students to earn college credits —up to completing an associate degree —while still in high school.

This pilot expansion is grounded in equity. We’ve designed JumpStart to provide opportunities for every student, removing barriers such as placement exams and other requirements, and putting in place the necessary supports to help each enrolled student achieve success.

Any high school student may participate in JumpStart, whether they are ready for college-level coursework, nearly ready, simply aspire to attend college, or want to explore post-high school career options. It is critical that we remove barriers to rigorous academic programs and create opportunities for every student to succeed.

All county school high school students can currently take HCC courses, taught by college-qualified HCPSS faculty, and earn college credit while meeting high school graduation requirements. In addition, for the last four years, students from across the county have taken advantage of the Early College Program in cybersecurity at the Applications and Research Laboratory to get on the fast track to advanced education, earning college credits, obtaining internships, and receiving industry certifications. Through JumpStart’s pilot expansion for the 2018–2019 school year, we are using capacity in underutilized high schools to provide these opportunities to even more students.

Current county school students and their families are already seeing the benefits of early college offerings. Hyiwot Teshome is the father of a student who participated in the cybersecurity program at the ARL. “This program prepares kids for the real world,” said Teshome. “It's not about preparing someone for just college; it's actually beyond college. That actual real-life introduction into the job market, into how we have to deal with other people, I don't think they can get it anywhere else.”

Kean McGlothan, a student at Oakland Mills High School, shared that the early college program, “helps you prepare yourself for college so when college comes it's not something new. It's just preparing yourself.”

JumpStart offers two early college options. Both programs combine high school-based and HCC campus-based dual credit for a structured pathway to high school graduation.

The first option is flexible, allowing any student in grades 9 to 12 to take one or more college-credit courses per semester at their high school or at HCC, with the possibility of attending HCC full time during their senior year. Students will have the opportunity to earn college credits while simultaneously fulfilling their high school graduation requirements. While general education courses will be offered to students in every high school, many more options will be available through the JumpStart program at Oakland Mills and River Hill high schools, including computer science, health sciences, STEM, teacher education, criminal justice and entrepreneurship programs. Students attending these two schools, and students wishing to transfer from overcrowded Centennial, Howard and Long Reach high schools, will have access to these offerings.

The other option is a structured pathway primarily for 9th- and 10th-grade students, who may earn a full year of college credits in STEM, cybersecurity, computer science, teaching, or several other courses of study by the time they graduate high school, or even two full years of college credit and an associate degree. This option provides a defined track for students and the results are significant. Students who commit to the 60-credit option will graduate from high school with two full years of transferrable college credits and an Associate of Arts degree in general studies.

No matter which path students choose—flexible or structured—all JumpStart options provide students an early start in earning a college degree at a greatly reduced tuition cost.

I encourage all families and students to consider participating in JumpStart. Visit to learn more about program options and for a list of upcoming information sessions.

Michael J. Martirano is Howard County’s interim superintendent of schools.

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