Pitt College in High School program helps students in region prepare early

By Becky Reiser

Next year, Anna Barry will graduate from Pitt without ever having to take a math class…. Next year, Anna Barry will graduate from Pitt without ever having to take a math class. Instead of fulfilling her general education requirements at Pitt, Barry decided to get a jump start on college by enrolling in a business calculus class in high school.

Pitt’s College in High School program is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, but many students don’t know the office in Thackeray Hall exists. Instead of serving college students, the office allows high school students to challenge themselves by enrolling in college-level courses while in high school.

Barry, a junior at Pitt, decided to take business calculus during her senior year of high school to avoid taking a higher-level math class. She found out that business calculus, or MATH 0120, gave her four credits that were transferable to Pitt.

“It covered my quantitative and algebra requirements … so I never had to take a math class [at Pitt],” Barry said.

She said about 35 people were in her class during her senior year of high school, and five sections of business calculus were offered. It was Bethel Park High School’s only College in High School course, so it was very popular, she said.

The College in High School program started in 1980 with one college level course — calculus — offered at North Hills High School in Pittsburgh. Now, the program offers 14 courses at 116 different high schools across Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Pitt has the largest such program in the region, although some higher education institutions — such as the Community College of Allegheny County, Carlow University and Chatham University — offer related programs.

College in High School, which differs from the national Advanced Placement tests, allows high school students to enroll in a class of their choice while they are seniors or juniors. The teachers follow the same syllabus that Pitt professors do, and they are required to administer the departmental exams. Although this might seem like a lot of work for a high school student, there are plenty of benefits.

As students are taking these classes at their high school campuses, they aren’t using University resources, and therefore have to pay a fraction of in-state tuition — each class is $175, except General Chemistry I, which is $250 because of the lab fee.

Kathy Dickensheets, a statistics teacher at Hampton High School in Allison Park, Pa., said the College in High School program does a thorough job of preparing students for college.

“Some of the advantages we have as high school teachers are that our full focus and our training are specifically targeted toward student learning,” Dickensheets said in an e-mail. “We also have the advantage of smaller class sizes and more familiarity with our students.”

Pitt offers College in High School teachers a tuition break on graduate level courses if they choose to enroll, but other than a yearly meeting at Pitt, the teachers don’t have to fulfill any other special requirements.

“The program helps students be independent. It’s a bridge between high school and college,” Jackie Batt, College in High School’s director, said.

Along with time-management skills, students also learn the demands of college courses, which can better prepare them for their first day sitting in a college lecture hall with up to — and sometimes more than— 250 other students.

High school students who successfully complete their course will be awarded Pitt college credit, which means they will already have a QPA upon entering Pitt. They can bypass the large freshman lectures that many students dread. For example, if a student takes Calculus I in high school and passes, that student will be allowed to take Calculus II during the first semester of that student’s freshman year at Pitt.

If the student chooses to go elsewhere for college, the school might still accept the credits, but schools differ.

“The list changes constantly … [Grove City College] used to accept our credit, but now they don’t. However, Allegheny College wouldn’t take it for the longest time, and now they will,” Batt said.

Through the College in High School Program, students can also take classes on campus in Oakland while still in high school. This is called Accelerated High School. Students meet on campus with the rest of the class, and there is no tuition break for them. Batt explained that these students must be juniors or seniors and can only have “part-time” status.

“There is only about 100 students a year,” Batt said, stressing that these students must be more mature to travel to Pitt each week and complete the work. While students in the Accelerated High School program may take classes in any department, they must also complete the prerequisites.

Alton Mark, a Pitt freshman, took several College in High School classes while enrolled at St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights, Pa, including statistics and computer programming. He also took classes that were offered by La Roche University and St. Vincent College for college credit. The payoff was huge — Mark was only two credits away from sophomore standing his first semester at Pitt.

“It was definitely a relief to get done with requirements,” he said.

“It paid off. The classes showed what college classes are like, plus it was cheaper,” Mark said, noting the $175 fee.

While the program has its advantages, Batt stressed that it’s not for everyone.

“Students should take these classes in order to acquire knowledge,” Batt said, explaining that parents might push their children into a college-level course before they are ready. This can be harmful in the long run, because students run the danger of becoming discouraged and turned off to the idea of college.

Batt said that the response to the program is always high — “about 95 percent positive.”

She said one student took Chemistry I in high school, came to Pitt as a freshman and enrolled in Chemistry II. The student felt completely prepared because the first month was a review of his previous course.