NEWBURYPORT — Juniors and seniors at Newburyport High School will soon be able to earn college and high school Advanced Placement credits through a tuition-free dual enrollment program with Endicott College.

Superintendent Sean Gallagher shared the news at a School Committee meeting Tuesday night, citing statistics that students would be more likely to graduate college if they start earning credits now.

"If they can complete a college course before they move onto postsecondary school, I think, according to the statistics, over 85% will continue to finish within the four years," he said.

Tuition for the program is fully funded by the Newburyport Education Foundation. Students interested in taking a college-level course during high school will only be required to pay a registration fee of $25 and any textbook costs, which vary depending on the course.

The district is piloting the program this spring beginning with "Introduction to Sociology," a three-credit course. The course, which will be taught by an Endicott professor, will take place at Newburyport High School on Mondays, Feb. 3 to April 2, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Students can register in the guidance office.

"The idea is, if this is successful, we would continue to add more classes in the fall and even more in the spring," Gallagher said.

The high school offers dual enrollment studies with local community colleges, but this is the first opportunity in which students do not have to travel to a college campus. Endicott is located in Beverly.

"The NEF is all about bringing education to the next level, and what better way to enhance education than to offer this to Newburyport students," said Carrie O'Donnell, executive director of the Newburyport Education Foundation.

O'Donnell said she is especially passionate about the program because it's "not just for super smart kids," but rather an opportunity for students to get a taste of what a college course really involves.

"It will benefit kids who may not be fully comfortable with the idea of college and help them get a college course under their belt to boost their confidence," she said.

O'Donnell added that some colleges have been reconsidering accepting high school AP course credits, so this is another opportunity for students to earn transferable credits and get ahead in their career plans.

Committee member David Hochheiser lauded Gallagher's efforts, saying, "I went into college with extra credits when I started. It allowed me to not only take only 12 credits per semester for the first two and a half years I was in school, but I also got to register early. I was one of the first freshmen and one of the first sophomores to get into classes."

Enrollment for the sociology course is on a first-come, first-served basis and will be capped at 25 students. Students must be at least 16 years old.

There are no prerequisites, just the commitment of one night a week. Students who choose to withdraw from a course will be subject to a $350 processing fee.

Staff writer Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at halterisio@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.

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