Austin Long, 16, a Dayton High School junior, plans to become a dentist, but he knows that will mean some difficult courses in college.
A new program at Western Nevada College might be just what he needs to get off to the right start.
“I’m not an AP (advanced placement) student,” he explained. “The way this works, it’s looking like it’s going to help me out, especially with chemistry.”
The Jump Start program, slated to kick off in the fall, will allow high school seniors to attend their final year of high school at Western Nevada College, earning both high school and college credits.
John A. Kinkella, dean of student services at Western Nevada College, said the idea came as a result of statistics showing that 75 percent of freshmen entering Nevada colleges and universities test below college level in either English or math and must take developmental classes.
“Students who start college in developmental classes rarely attain a college degree,” he said.
Kinkella told the Carson City School Board on Tuesday that he attributes the dismal performance among incoming freshmen to one condition: senioritis.
“In their fourth year, they put their feet up on the desk and hibernate,” he said. “As a result of that hibernation, when they leave Carson High School, they are no longer racing to the top.”
To test his theory, Kinkella traveled to high schools in Carson, Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral and Storey County school districts and administered the Accuplacer Essay Test — the exam used to determine whether a student is eligible to enroll in college English — to high school juniors.
His results were encouraging. Nearly 80 percent passed the test, he said.
“So we thought, ‘What would happen if they came up to the college in their senior year?’,” he said. “What if instead of hibernating, they started excelling?”
Eligible students will have passed the Accuplacer Essay and earned at least a B average in algebra II. They will enroll in three courses per semester to be taken on the college campus, with a peer tutor assigned to the cohort.
“It will provide high-achieving seniors an opportunity to complete college core requirements prior to high school graduation,” Kinkella said during a parent meeting at Dayton High School on Thursday. Parent nights are scheduled at each high school to provide more information. “These are no-joke classes. They’re serious business.”
Dayton High School Principal Tim Logan said it’s a good fit for a select group of students. The top 5 percent of his seniors already are enrolled in advanced-placement courses, which serve as a dual credit for college, he said.
“This will give something to the next probably 10 percent of kids,” he said. “It will up the rigor, which I really like.”
Juan Salazar, 16, listened to the presentation and decided against the program.
“I’m an AP student, and I’m already taking AP chemistry,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll do it because I’d be taking the same classes.”
The same courses at the University of Nevada, Reno, would cost $2,310.50 per semester and $825 per semester at Western Nevada College. Each school district will determine how much of those fees the students will absorb.
The Carson City School District will charge the student $90 per class, the same fee applied to advanced-placement classes. The Storey County School District will pay 100 percent of tuition and books and provide transportation. Other school districts are still considering their options.
Financial aid will be available, Kinkella said.
Marcos Saylor, 17, said that although he considers it a good opportunity, he has more to consider than academics.
“It’s not really the classes I’m concerned about,” he said. “It’s more the socializing. I don’t know if it will feel like my senior year not hanging out with my friends and stuff. The college life is a lot of pressure on me.”
Kinkella said students should be able to continue to participate in sports and other school activities.
Interested students should talk to their principals or counselors and attend the information night at their schools.
Carson City School Board trustee Ron Swirczek applauded the college.
“There are a lot of kids who are ready to accelerate,” he said. “I think this is tremendous what you’ve done.”