Early College program continues to grow

Nick Lacoille, right, in the blue basball cap, is one of about 40 Early College students at Castleton University this fall. Photo by Jenner Haseltine

For the last five years, Castleton University has been one of many venues throughout Vermont creating the opportunity for high school seniors to complete a full year of college for free.

Each year the number of students involved has increased dramatically and this year is no exception with a class almost double the size of last year’s.

“This is a new revolution of dual enrollment and early college students,” said Maurice Ouimet, dean of Admissions, at a recent Early College seminar.

Nick Lacoille, a 17-year-old early college student who attended the seminar, agrees with Ouimet.

“I mean, look at the past classes, there were only a few kids.  Now there’s like 40-something” he said, cracking a smile.

Lacoille first found out about the Early College program through his peers and guidance counselor’s office at Otter Valley High School, where it was “openly talked about.”

Ben Haseltine, one of last year’s Castleton EC students, said his experience was different. He first found out about the program through his sister, Katie Haseltine, a former employee of Castleton’s admissions office. He feels that his small public high school, Green Mountain, in Chester Vermont, “tried not to talk about it” for fear of losing the top percentile of their academically excelling students.

But the opportunity seemed staggering to both, considering no student would have to spend a single dime to complete their freshman year of college at Castleton.

Like the majority of students looking to pursue higher education, both Haseltine and Lacoille’s main deterrents when thinking about college was the cost.

“I just want to have as little debt as possible,” said Lacoille, haphazardly throwing his hands in the air.

This program completely eliminates that deterrent – for the first year.

Kelley Beckwith, director of Academic Services at Castleton, lists this monetary compensation as one of the main reasons students have been so drawn to the Early College program, along with the desire for more challenge academically and just plain being ready to move on from their high school environment.

Beckwith, who has worked at Castleton for 27 years between the business office, IT services and part-time teaching, has a daughter who was an early college student last year.

Although she now attends the University of Vermont, her daughter very much enjoyed the program at Castleton, she said. Like almost every EC student, she continues to be extraordinarily successful in school and is certainly on a career path that will yield great accomplishment, according to Beckwith.

Haseltine feels such a high success rate may be due in part to the goal-oriented thinking of those who apply.

“All of the students are more motivated, they want to do something with their life,” he said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Beckwith stressed.

Although students may fear a difficult time adjusting because they feel the older student body will not accept them or chide them based on their age, Beckwith, Lacoille and Haseltine all said that’s not the case.

Haseltine said he had a difficult time socially in his junior year of high school, as some of the students in his advanced classes were competitive about being valedictorian to the point where they would practically tease him directly for receiving a poor test score.

“The work was already hard academically, they just made it so much worse,” he said.  Upon arriving at Castleton, he found the social environment to be welcoming and friendly.  As a current first-year student in the theatre department, Haseltine has never had a problem socializing, especially with other students on campus.

“I was very open with everyone, and everyone who I ever told was totally cool with it,” he said of his EC status.

The acceptance and warmth coming from older students often helps improve the social and interpersonal skills of students. The faculty also enjoy having the opportunity to impart their curriculum on young, academically driven minds, making it a “win-win program,” Beckwith says.

Although Lacoille admits that classes require “way more work than I’m used to,” he is overall enjoying the semester thus far.  Along with enjoying the layout of the campus, he also likes the scheduling of courses, something Beckwith said is very popular among EC students.

She feels students coming from a high school where administration feels the need to fill every empty space with some sort of structured activity need the chance to practice their time management skills as a form of independence, and sometimes just need to hang out and do homework throughout the day.

Haseltine agrees that independence is one of the key components that make a college environment appealing, however he feels that it also opens up more of an opportunity for a student to fall behind if they start procrastinating and lose some self-motivation.  As a past victim of procrastination, Haseltine credits the EC seminar as one of his saviors during the fall semester last year.

“I learned so much about time management,” he says.  “When you have your own time it is very important to be organized.”

Ouimet, Beckwith, Lacoille, and Haseltine are confident the Early College program will continue to grow and gain popularity.  Last year the program consisted of roughly 15 students, whereas this year there are over 40, according to Beckwith. Five years ago, in the initial class of EC students at Castleton, “there were only one or two students,” she said.

“The state of Vermont is supporting Early College in such a way it’ll keep growing,” she said.

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