When incoming freshman Christian Sarmiento ’19 (CLAS) begins his first year at UConn in a few days, he will already know how to work independently and think critically – skills essential to succeeding in college. After all, he’s coming to UConn with more than a semester’s worth of credits under his belt from taking part in UConn’s Early College Experience program.
Sarmiento, a graduate of Stratford High School, is one of nearly 10,000 students who took ECE courses this past academic year. And a record 11,000 high school students have registered with the program for the upcoming year.
Eighty-four percent of those who take ECE courses receive a grade of C or better which is what is needed to earn UConn credit.
ECE has seen steady expansion since it was launched as the High School Cooperative Program in 1955. It was renamed in 2005.
This year, more high school students than ever before have the opportunity to get a jump start on their college education through ECE. Eighteen schools statewide recently joined the existing group of participating institutions, including three in Hartford and one in Stamford that are coming on board for the first time. Program director Brian Boecherer says this is the result of a strategic effort to extend ECE opportunities to urban school districts, where access to college-level courses is typically limited.
“We want urban schools to know we’re making a commitment to implementing ECE in their schools,” he says.
Last year, Boecherer made several visits to schools in Hartford and Stamford to let them know about the program, and at one particular school, his efforts were underscored by a five-minute marketing message – in the form of a rap – created by the students for ECE.
Another way the program seeks to involve as many Connecticut students as possible is that the fees for participating in ECE are waived for any student eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. For schools with more than 80 percent of the students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, the entire school has the opportunity to earn ECE credits free of charge.
Not that the cost to enroll is high. Even for students who don’t qualify for a fee waiver, the cost of an ECE course is $35 per credit. Sarmiento says he’s saving over $9,000 in UConn tuition by earning 18 credits from ECE courses at his high school.
Boecherer says ECE courses differ from other programs offering college credit, such as AP, in that they mirror a college approach to the material rather than preparing students for a single exam at the end of the course. He notes that although about 71 percent of Connecticut high school students earn passing marks on AP exams, there is no guarantee that colleges will accept their score.
Incoming freshman Iwona Wrobel ’19 (ENG), who’s taken both AP and ECE courses at New Britain High School, says she appreciated the ECE focus on learning the material. Instead of depending on one exam at the end, credits for ECE courses are determined by several exams and assignments throughout the semester.
“The questions on ECE exams are more about problem-solving than memorization, unlike the AP test,” she says.
The life skills that are essential to college-level academics are also an integral part of the ECE program. Sarmiento, who has credit in subjects as varied as statistics and music theory, says the courses taught him to manage his time effectively – one less thing he’ll have to adjust to as his freshman year begins.
“You have to learn to be independent, you don’t have that push from teachers to hand in assignments like in other high school classes,” he says. “You have to learn to set your own schedule, but now that I’ve had practice doing that I’ll be prepared.”
The quality of each ECE course is ensured through a thorough high school teacher certification process and constant contact with UConn faculty. High schools also have access to University resources, such as Homer Babbidge Library. Boecherer says the curriculum for each ECE course is reviewed to ensure it fits the philosophy of the corresponding UConn academic department and the University overall.
“There’s a real connection between ECE high schools and UConn,” he says. “Teachers can pick up the phone and call us if they need something. Everyone’s on a first-name basis.”
Another perk of ECE courses is that they offer enrichment activities in which high school students come to campus to interact with UConn students and faculty, something Boecherer says will be expanding in the coming year. For instance, French students partake in a French Immersion day with a quiz bowl and lunch with graduate students, at which they only speak French. Fine Arts students compete in an exhibition in which their work is judged by UConn faculty.
In the high school classroom as well, ECE projects can be enjoyable, says Sarmiento. One of his favorite projects put his problem-solving abilities to the test but was also a lot of fun.
“In my statistics class, we did an actual statistics test on the effect music has on memory, and then we made a video of our findings,” he says. “It was really cool to see that what we tested was true – music actually does have a significant effect on memory.”
By: Abigail Mace ’16 (CLAS) | Story courtesy of UConn Today