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Mercy College to Help Bronx High Schoolers Earn Associate's Degrees

By Patrick Wall | April 4, 2012 6:38pm
Students from Harry S. Truman High School will soon be able to earn Associate's degrees by the time they graduate.
Students from Harry S. Truman High School will soon be able to earn Associate's degrees by the time they graduate.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

CO-OP CITY — Beginning this fall, students who graduate from Truman High School in the northwest Bronx could carry home Associate's degrees along with their high school diplomas, all without paying a penny.

Mercy College will enable the high schoolers to earn as many as 60 college credits and an Associate's degree, as well as provide tutoring and support for parents during the college admissions process, in a program it hopes to expand throughout the Bronx.

“It is a revolutionary program,” Mercy College president Kimberly Cline told students gathered in Truman’s planetarium Wednesday.

If you earn an Associate’s degree in high school, Cline told the students, “You could get a four-year degree in two more years, get a master’s degree, or start working.”

Mercy and Truman will use their own funds to pilot the program beginning in September.

Then Mercy aims to raise $100 million for an endowment that would allow it gradually partner with more schools, so that by 2025 any Bronx high school with a graduation rate below 70 percent would be included in the program, called Bronx Achievement Pact.

Through the program, qualified high school teachers would be treated as adjunct Mercy College professors. High school juniors who take their classes would earn 30 college credits.

Students could choose to take additional free classes during weekends, school breaks and the summer in order to earn 30 more credits and an Associate’s degree.

The credits would be transferrable, so students are not obligated to continue their studies at Mercy, a private four-year college based in Dobbs Ferry, New York, with a satellite campus in The Bronx.

Mercy will also offer college-age tutors, summer classes and career advice to participating high school students. Their parents, who may never have applied to college before, can get guidance on the admissions process, including the search for financial aid.

“It could help me get a head start in college,” said Renay Brown, a Truman junior, “and it would help my mom with money.”

Brown, 17, is an honor roll-student and National Honor Society member who dreams of becoming a surgeon, or at least an engineer, she said. Still, she could use some help planning for college.

“Sometimes I get really confused about what college I want to go to,” she said.

Truman’s 14-year principal, Sana Nasser, added that parents also get overwhelmed as they try to find a suitable college for their children, not to mention funding to afford it.

“It’s horrendous,” Nasser said of the process. “That FAFSA,” the federal student aid application, “can kill you.”

During the event, Nasser told the few dozen students gathered that they would benefit especially from the college mentors.

“You know how I lecture you,” she said. “Well if you got to talk to someone who is 19 or 20 and in college, you’d listen.”

In an informational packet, Mercy said the new program has three goals: to increase the rates of high school graduation and college enrollment, and to ensure that students enter college prepared for rigorous work.

Currently, about 59 percent of Bronx students graduate high school, but only 11 percent of Bronx adults have earned a bachelor’s degree, the packet said, citing Education Department and Census data.

The program relies on research that shows that high school students who receive mentoring and who earn college credits early on are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to graduate from college.

Eventually, Mercy president Cline said, the program could serve as a national model.

“If we can solve this issue in the Bronx,” she said, “then we can solve it in Los Angeles or San Antonio.”