Fast Forward and Early College offer high school students a collegiate head start

Students in Richard Wheeler’s Fast Forward classes at Binghamton High School.

What if you could start earning your college degree – while you were still in high school?

Corinne Roma did – and ended up completing her Associate’s degree at the age of 18; she’s now transferring to Cornell University. Lauren Rice is taking college courses at her alma mater — Chenango Valley High School, where she’s a senior – and earning academic credit that will save her time and money at a four-year university.

“I figured, why not get a head start?” said Roma, who became a full-time SUNY Broome student through the Early College program after finishing her sophomore year at Binghamton  High School. “I felt I would have more freedom with the courses I was taking.”

An increasing number of Southern Tier high school students are getting that head start, accumulating transferrable college credit and acclimating themselves to the rigors of college academics, through SUNY Broome’s Fast Forward and Early College programs.

Fast Forward is a program that allows qualified high school students to take SUNY Broome courses at their own school during the course of a normal day. While they are taught by high school teachers, the courses are rigorous – and equivalent to what students will encounter once they enroll in college full-time. They also earn college credits, which are transferrable to colleges around the country and part of a student’s permanent academic record. The result of a partnership between SUNY Broome and local school districts, Fast Forward is offered in 25 high schools throughout the region, involving 16 different academic departments at the college and approximately 2,000 students.

Early College courses, on the other hand, are taught by SUNY Broome faculty. Students can take these courses on campus, along with their college-age peers, or online. About 120 students per year avail themselves of this option. A related development, the Early College Online Academy (ECOA), gives qualified students the opportunity to earn college credit through SUNY Broome’s online courses at a reduced rate. Just like other Early College courses, they are taught by college faculty.

“This is THE best way to save money on a world-class college education,” said SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm. “It makes no sense to blow more of your hard-earned money unless your family has lots of money to blow.”

SUNY Broome Fast Forward facilitator and Outreach chairwoman Katie Bucci is herself an alumna of the program, graduating from high school with 36 credits and, as a result, earning her bachelor’s degree in only two and a half years from SUNY Albany before going onto earn a Master’s at Binghamton University. She became the program coordinator in 2008, and worked to build the program to what it is today: a quality college education for high school students who are ready to give their best.

“Students experience the academic standards, enhanced workload and personal responsibility required to be successful in college,” she said. “They will enter college with completed coursework, which could shorten their time to graduation and help them save on tuition. Plus, Fast Forward is a true partnership – the college and high schools work together to benefit students.”

Fast Forward 

Corinne Roma earned her Associate’s degree at the age of 18 through the Early College program

A hand-painted mural welcomes Binghamton High School’s Health Sciences students to their classroom, where teacher Richard Wheeler is at the helm. The courses Wheeler teaches – health sciences, personal success strategies and medical terminology – are identical to those offered by SUNY Broome, upon whose curriculum they are based.

As the result of Fast Forward courses, several Binghamton High School Health Sciences students have earned SUNY Broome’s Presidential Honors Scholarship, which provides a full ride to the college, Wheeler said. Others have become interested in the highly challenging Associate’s in Arts in One Year degree program and the Honors Program. Overall, students are more confident and accomplished as a result – and more likely to experience academic success.

“Our students are so excited about their college IDs, their SUNY Broome lanyard, access to campus facilities and events, and the realization of the educational and financial value they receive,” he said.

Whether classes revolve around art, medical terminology, foreign language or another subject, the Fast Forward program is drawing more area high school students. It has seen an approximately 73 percent increase in the numbers of students over the past four years, and nearly an 89 percent increase in full-time equivalent students over that same time period.

At Sidney High School, the program has grown every year, both in terms of students and courses; currently, 94 students take 20 different Fast Forward classes, with topics that include art, math, engineering, history, science, health and language.

According to Sidney High School Principal Eben Bullock, students are drawn to Fast Forward because it offers them the opportunity to take rigorous college-level classes – without having to pay tuition. They also appreciate the prospect of transferring their credits and shaving years off the time it would take to get a college degree. Fast Forward opens up other options, too, he pointed out. Students can opt for a lighter credit load in college, or decide to take a semester abroad. The credit can also provide an edge in competitive college admissions, demonstrating the student’s college success while still in high school.

“For our students, coming from a small rural district, it provides a degree of confidence to the colleges that despite being from a small school, the student can be competitive and successful,” Bullock said. “The value of the Fast Forward program is immeasurable and it has truly become one of the cornerstones for our district.”

According to the most recent alumni survey, 91 percent of college seniors have successfully transferred Fast Forward credit to their college or university. Nearly 85 percent say that the program left them more prepared academically for the rigors of college, and more than 70 percent developed more realistic expectations for their college experience. More than 75 percent were more confident in their ability to succeed academically at a collegiate level.

The program’s result go beyond the mere perception of preparedness:  Fast Forward students who enroll full-time at SUNY Broome are far more likely to complete their college degrees than the general student population – a difference of 30 percentage points.

“We talk a good deal about student success in college, and Fast Forward students are definitely showing that they are successful academically,” said SUNY Broome Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer Francis Battisti. “Through their rigorous courses, they learn the strategies and tools they’ll need both to obtain their degrees and, later on, be successful in the workplace.”

David Inchishin is both a Fast Forward and Early College student, taking classes both at Chenango Forks High School and on the SUNY Broome campus. Why? “Honestly, I was tired of high school and taking classes I know I didn’t need,” said Inchishin, a senior who has taken courses both online and on campus.

It may seem like a blunt assessment, but Inchishin has defined career goals. He plans to enroll in SUNY Broome’s nursing program, and eventually work toward becoming a nurse anesthetist after working some years in the field. Sure, he’s sometimes the youngest student in his class – but that’s never posed an obstacle, and some of his campus friends forget that he’s in high school, he said.

“I found them more interesting than a high school course,” he said of his classes through Fast Forward and Early College. “I think more students should look into the Fast Forward program. It helps a lot.”

A Fast Forward class

Ensuring Quality

Nationally, concurrent enrollment programs have existed for nearly 50 years, although they have seen significant growth in the past two decades. But how can students make sure that they’re truly earning college credit – and that they’re becoming college-ready in the process?

Enter the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, or NACEP, which has accredited 105 such concurrent enrollment partnerships nationwide. Of that number 15 community colleges in the SUNY system hold such accreditation for their concurrent enrollment programs, said NACEP executive director Adam Lowe. “It helps students because they can be validated that what they took was a true college course, a program rooted in academics,” Lowe said.

SUNY Broome’s Fast Forward was recently reaccredited by the organization, an intensive process. The goal of accreditation, said Lowe, is to distinguish programs that have effective practices and high academic standards. Additionally, accreditation spans all the concurrent enrollment courses a college offers, to ensure that students are earning authentic credit.

To earn accreditation, a college must show a very strong commitment by the faculty on campus. At SUNY Broome, faculty liaisons serve as mentors to the high school teachers in the program, and collaborate with these teachers on curricula and assessment.

“This is really a reflection of Broome’s leadership in this field by building strong partnerships with their high schools and doing it in a way that maintains high academic standards,” Lowe said.

Art teacher Melissa Restuccia at Vestal High School works closely with SUNY Broome Visual Communications Professor Hall Groat on her ArtComm 125 curriculum. Graphic design is just one Fast Forward class available to Vestal High School art students; plans are to add photography next year – both dark room and digital – and perhaps painting in the future.

Her Fast Forward students do fewer projects than they may have otherwise, but they go more in-depth – and more digital. During the Spring 2017 semester, they uploaded their idea boards, thumbnails and final projects to their Edublog accounts, documenting their progress, all online. The process not only acclimates students to an increasingly digital world, but allows them to more easily share their work with potential transfer schools and programs.

“Now they’re almost paperless with their projects, and students can take them into their college careers,” she said.

The Fast Forward graphic design class has prompted lasting interest in students; about a third of those in the class are interested in pursuing it as a college major. Many are interested in pursuing their higher education at SUNY Broome as well, Restuccia noted.

Wheeler has enjoyed working with Health Sciences professors and chairpersons Erin O’Hara-Leslie, Holly Jones and Jane Hlopko on his Fast Forward courses at Binghamton High School. His classroom also has been visited by other faculty and staff members, who discuss both topics relevant to class and opportunities on the SUNY Broome campus.

“Their passion for teaching, student relationships and sharing of ideas reminds me, as an alumnus of SUNY Broome, why I enjoyed my time to much on campus when I was a student and soccer player at what used to be referred to as Broome Tech,” he reflected. “The instructors at SUNY Broome make the difference!”

Bridging the gap 

A student in a fast Forward art class works with clay.

Like many students, Lauren Rice – now a senior at Chenango Valley High School – learned about Fast Forward through her guidance counselor. The program drew her attention for several reasons: She wanted to gain experience with college classes and the workload before heading off to higher education, as well as get some required courses out of the way. Earning college credit at no cost to her family was an added plus, as was challenging herself academically.

Starting in her junior year, she has taken a wide range of classes, from environmental science and U.S. history to French, writing and public policy. After high school, she plans to attend SUNY Geneseo to major in Early Childhood and Childhood Education, with the ultimate goal of becoming an instructor specializing in teaching English to speakers of other languages. Her Fast Forward courses contributed to her choice of major and career, she said.

“The courses are challenging, require in-depth thinking and are often enjoyable,” she said.

High school students such as Lauren who pursue a foreign language during their senior year tend to be highly motivated to pursue their studies, and it made sense to offer them college credit, said Amber Henyan, a Chenango Valley French teacher and a SUNY Broome alumna. By taking part in Fast Forward, they are able to apply their credits and take higher-level language courses once they reach the college campus.

Of course, those benefits are hard-earned. Courses feature heavier workloads and higher expectations than typical high school classes, and students can feel overwhelmed as they juggle the realities of syllabi, note-taking and office hours. In short, it’s their introduction to college life – and it can be jarring at first.

They find, however, that their hard work pays off in multiple ways.

“I had a lot of students come back to me and say, ‘Thank you so much, Madame, because your course got me ready for what I was up against when I went to college,’” Henyan said. “I think it’s a great opportunity. This is so advantageous, for the price of college these days. I think it really bridges the gap between high school and college.”