Free HVCC summer courses drawing more high school students to college

TROY – Hudson Valley Community College is whetting high school students’ interest by offering them free classes during the summer – and they are responding by paying for more classes during the school year.

The initiative began last summer, partly out of a hope that it could help students recover some of what they lost during the pandemic. Students could take two college classes for free, with everything paid for – even textbooks. Most classes were online, and 634 students signed up.

This year, the summer program has attracted 867 students.

“Really it was just as a response to the pandemic and just how much things were lost during that,” said MaryKate Kraus, director of high school programs and educational outreach at HVCC. “It was really established to provide students an opportunity to earn some college credit to get a jumpstart on college.”

Among the options are traditional general-education requirements, as well as courses that could prepare students for college, like pre-calculus. Introductory classes in various majors are also offered. The college’s renowned certificate programs in the trades are not included.

Many students have gone on to sign up for online classes during the fall and spring semesters, which are offered to them at a reduced rate but aren’t free.

“They get the scholarship for the summer, but I think it encourages a lot of them to look at our fall course offerings, our spring course offerings,” Kraus said.

Registration for this fall has already started.

This year, the community college saw a significant increase in high school students signing up for those academic year classes, which have been offered since the 1990s.

Many students might not have known about it, she said.

“It’s word of mouth. Students talk to other students, parents talk to parents,” she said. “I think this initiative has been part of the increase.”

For this year, HVCC’s enrollment is projected to increase, albeit slightly, breaking a long trend downward. Over the last 10 years, enrollment at the college has fallen 37 percent, from 13,500 students to 8,500 students. The other local community colleges have seen similar decreases.

The program’s scholarships are funded by the college directly. This summer, HVCC is spending $383,000 on the effort, one-third of which is for the textbooks required in the courses.

For many students, the summer program is their first taste of real college classes. They must be entering their junior or senior year to participate.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking,” said Tyler Maul, 15, a rising junior from Castleton-on-Hudson. “But I soon learned it’s more than just a lot of smart people. It’s more of a community. There’s no bullying, none of that stuff – we all respect each other. I love it.”

He’s put together an ambitious plan for college classes during the next two school years and expects to graduate with 60 to 64 college credits – half of what he’ll need for a four-year degree.

He’s considering civil engineering, so this summer he is taking a class on computer-aided drawing, which is used to design buildings.

“It’s helping me decide if I want to do this plus giving me college credits,” he said.

So far, he said, the class has been hard, but exciting. He’s “kind of certain” civil engineering is for him.

“I like the fact of building things, designing things, learning how to build things and how things go together,” he said.

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