In May, Kumail Raza graduated twice.
The 18-year-old received a Mt. Hebron High School diploma and an associate degree in cybersecurity from Howard Community College.
Raza is the first Howard County student to earn both diplomas through a five-year-old Early College dual enrollment program that is a partnership between public schools and the community college, according to Elizabeth Homan, a college spokeswoman.
Offered at Oakland Mills High School and the Applications Research Laboratory, courses have focused on cybersecurity and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors, allowing students to earn up to 30 college credits in high school and transfer to the college to earn an associate degree, which requires 60 credits.
This year, the program has been expanded to allow students to earn 60 credits and renamed JumpStart and is being tested at Oakland Mills and River Hill high schools.
“JumpStart is our language for dual enrollment, when students are both in the high school and in the college,” said Caroline Walker, executive director program innovation and student well-being for the school system.
Students can enroll in a 30- or 60-credit program track or they can be on a more flexible path where they take one or more credit-based classes at their high school or the college. All program options allow students to attend the college full-time during their senior year.
“I didn’t plan on finishing it [the program] a year earlier than expected but when I realize it was possible during my junior year, I changed my target to finish it,” said Raza, who plans to become a doctor or restaurateur.
JumpStart was expanded this year in part to relieve crowding at three county high schools — Centennial, Howard and Long Reach. The students from the crowded high schools transfer to Oakland Mills or River Hill high schools, which are under capacity.
During the 2017-18 academic year, 740 Howard students participated in the dual enrollment program, Homan said. The school system was unable to provide a headcount for this year’s participation.
Nationwide, nearly 1.4 million high school students participated in dual enrollment programs in the 2010-2011 school year, an estimated 67 percent increase between 2002 to 2010, according to the Community College Research Center in the Teachers College at Columbia University.
While there has been growing interest — in part because the programs can mean significant savings on college tuition — the programs have raised some eyebrows.
There are colleges and universities that won’t accept dual enrollment credit because “they were uncertain about the quality of their content [the program’s] or the qualifications of instructors,” where students take the courses in a high school setting, according to The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit that covers inequality and innovation in education.
“On its face [dual enrollment], it’s an everybody-wins strategy,” Chester Finn Jr., a former assistant U.S. secretary of education said in an interview with Hechinger published last month. “The issue is, are we doing something educationally marginal, maybe even fraudulent, when we assert that these are college courses?”’
Finn, a member of the Maryland State Board of Education, declined to elaborate for this article.
Jim Klein, a history professor at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, is writing a position paper on dual enrollment programs for the American Association of University Professors, a nonprofit membership association of professors and other academic professionals.
“The biggest concern the organization has I think is there is little attention given to the rigor of the courses,” Klein said.
He said a possible solution is for the faculty to have a role in the courses that are being offered to high school students and determine the terms of partnerships between colleges and high schools.
“The faculty voice needs to be at the table when the agreements [between] a university or college are signed with high schools,” Klein said.
In Texas, there has been a rapid growth of dual enrollment programs and ninth-graders are able to enroll in the courses, according to Klein.
Klein has concerns as to whether ninth- and 10th-graders are mentally or socially ready to be taking college level courses in high school.
Ensuring high school teachers meet the minimal standards of a college professor is another concern of Klein’s, who has an unanswered question: “Would the college actually hire that person if he or she was available on the job market?”
Getting a JumpStart on college
JumpStart is “really about being a great chance for kids to be exposed to things that they might not have access to,” Walker said.
The 30-credit structured program, at Oakland Mills and River Hill high schools and the ARL, focuses on STEM, criminal justice, computer science, cyber security, entrepreneurship, general studies, health sciences, secondary teaching and public health. Interested students must enroll by the tenth grade to earn up to the 30 credits.
The 60-credit program, at Oakland Mills and River Hill high schools, is for rising ninth-graders who can earn up to 60 credits or earn an associate’s degree in general studies from the college over four years.
The flexible options are offered at all 12 county high schools and the college.
All state public colleges accept the community college credit, which can make a four-year degree significantly cheaper, according to Cindy Peterka, vice president of student services at Howard Community College.
The first STEM class from Oakland Mills graduated in May from the college. Of the 15 students, 10 decided to stay to earn their associate’s degree while seven went to four-year universities , according to Peterka.
All 18 students in the 2017 graduating cybersecurity high school class stayed with the college to earn their associate’s degree, according to Homan.
The school system provides free transportation for students who are traveling from Long Reach, Centennial and Howard high schools to Oakland Mills and River Hill and for those going to the college, according to Bassett.
Two-thousand dollars cover transportation costs, out of $515,484 approved JumpStart budget for this fiscal year. Other costs cover staff salaries, field trips, textbooks and classroom supplies.
Students also pay, but receive 50 percent off tuition. The current tuition rate for a single credit for in-county residents is $138, according to the college’s website.
For students who receive free and reduced meals, known as FARMs, all tuition costs are waived.
There are additional fees, about $75 per course and textbook costs that be as high as $250. There is no application fee for any student.
“Children can get a JumpStart on their education in such an affordable, structured and well thought out way,” said Jean Svacina, vice president of academic affairs at Howard Community College.
“You should be writing,” Brendan Williams says to his 28-student JumpStart English class on a rainy Monday morning, to quiet them down and have them start the day’s assignment.
On the walls of his classroom are an array of posters: one of Anne Frank, a Jewish diarist who died during the Holocaust, another of Langston Hughes, a former poet and social activist, Bob Dylan, world renowned musician and Noble Prize literature winner and one all on it’s own of rock musician Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen.
Williams, a Springsteen fan, teaches 53 students in two JumpStart 11th grade English classes at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia.
“It’s a really exciting experience getting to challenge the kids in a different way than with the regular Howard County [school system] curriculum,” Williams said.
The college curriculum focuses on composition, writing and rhetorical analysis. The students have four major essay assignments, a rhetorical essay, a research paper, a diagnostic essay, and a definition essay, where students argue the validity of definition, Williams said.
Williams expects his students to write at a college level and be able to strongly analyze rhetoric. The students receive two grades in the class, one for the school system and one for the college, both determined by Williams.
JumpStart students are required to maintain a 2.5 grade point average, according to Peterka.
All teachers are held to the same academic qualifications of college professors, including having a master’s degree, according to Svacina.
Williams received a master’s in secondary education, with a focus in English, from John Hopkins University.
Three years ago, Julian Jones, had no idea what cybersecurity was. She graduated from Marriotts Ridge High School in May 2017, earned an associate degree in cybersecurity in May and is employed by Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense company, on its security monitoring team.
“The early college program completely changed my life,” the Marriottsville resident said. “I wouldn’t be here without it.”
Jones is pursuing a bachelor's in cybersecurity, with a minor in homeland security at the University of Maryland, University College, a predominantly online accredited university.
Jones wants to open a cybersecurity company.
Noah Teshome, 18, of Columbia, and Mason Godsey, 19, of Ellicott City, participated in the cybersecurity program, focusing on network security. The 2017 high school graduates, Teshome from Atholton and Godsey from Mt. Hebron, received associate degrees from Howard Community College in May. They attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County as information systems majors.
“In my opinion it was better than staying at your high school and taking AP [Advanced Placement] classes,” Godsey said.
“In college, the work provokes you to use a different thought pattern,” focusing more on analyzing and getting to the deeper meaning rather than just scraping the surface, Godsey said.
Teshome said the program helped his college transition run smoothly and solidified his decision to pursue a cybersecurity career.
All three had internships during the program, including ImmersiMap, a data collection system firm, Cybercore Technologies, a software developer company, Tenable Network Security, a cybersecurity firm and Ready Set STEM, a toy company that taught computer coding.
“I gained insight of my career for the future and gave me knowledge that I could build upon [from classroom learning],” Godsey said.
At Ready Set STEM, Godsey was able to use coding in a specific way to test the LED lights that were used in the toys.
Jones speaks at yearly back-to-school nights and students who are on the fence of joining the program.
“My advice to them [students] is to at least try it out,” Jones said. “You can always leave the program but at least you learned if your like something or you find out if you dislike something.”
Raza said there are trade-offs and students need to be willing to sacrifice a lot.
“You can’t relive high school experiences … but at the same you’re getting a [college] degree,” Raza said.
Raza, a wide receiver for Mt. Hebron, was able to stay on the football team while being at the college.
“I don’t think I would go back and change it [my high school experience],” Raza said. “I don’t live with regrets and if I didn’t do this program I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”