This story first appeared in print in the Cortland Standard on July 14, 2018.
Since the eighth grade, Taylor Burk has known she wanted to pare down her college years, save college tuition costs and enter the work force early.
One fact sold her: $100,000. That’s how much money she will eventually save in college costs.
Burk saw how an early degree program through Tompkins Cortland Community College helped her brother get a job earlier than his peers and save on college costs.
She followed a similar path. She took a college-level English class online the summer after eighth grade and continued taking college-level courses through her senior year.
Burk wavered only once: In the 10th grade when her mother died.
“It was an extremely hard year,” Burk said. “I was kind of getting behind in classes for high school and I had to catch up for TC3. Then I had to take more my 11th and 12th grade years to make up for it.”
So while her friends enjoyed free periods and hangout time, Burk studied. But the commitment paid off.
When Burk accepted her high school diploma last month from Dryden High School, she was one of four in her class to walk in her TC3 commencement weeks before her high school graduation. It was TC3’s record number of early degree students graduating: 46.
Concurrent enrollment and early degree
Concurrent enrollment is anyone who takes TC3 courses while in high school.
The early degree program is for those students who graduate high school with an associate degree — about two years of full-time college work.
Rhonda Kowalski, concurrent enrollment coordinator at TC3, helps students select the classes they should take for their desired majors, ensures credits can transfer, and meets with prospective
early degree students.
These are students like Burk, a much smaller pool than concurrent enrollment students. The college typically sees 3,500 students a year from 71 high schools earning college credits, Kowalski said. Only 46 this year got the associate degree.
Still, that’s a record high as faculty spread the word to their high school students about the opportunity.
What it can save
Average cost of attendance for New York residents for one academic year at a four-year SUNY school for 2017-18 school year, including room, board, fees and tuition:
On campus: $21,120
Source: The State University of New York
Average tuition and fees for 2017-18 at private four-year colleges: $34,740
Average room and board: $12,210
Source: The College Board
Here are details about concurrent enrollment courses offered through Tompkins Cortland Community College:
• All concurrent enrollment credits come at no cost to the school or students.
• Online courses — not offered in the classroom — are offered at a reduced tuition, about 45 percent of the college’s tuition.
• Concurrent enrollment teachers at the high schools are adjuncts at the college. Early Degree is the program where students earn their associate’s degree while still in high school.
Source: Rhonda Kowalski, concurrent enrollment coordinator at TC3
What concurrent enrollment looks like
Burk and her friend and fellow Dryden High School graduate Medina Lojic — who fell just one credit shy of completing her associate degree — took their college courses in the regular high school setting, with a few online courses thrown in.
TC3 has 116 high school instructors in the Cortland area that are also adjuncts at the college, Kowalski said. They teach advanced classes, often to a class of mixed students, some taking the class for high schoollevel credit, and some taking it for college-level credit.
Or, if it’s an Advanced Placement course, the score on the final exam dictates whether the student will be able to count the course for college credit.
Lojic, who decided her senior year she wants to be a registered nurse rather than a doctor, has two classes remaining to graduate with her associate degree. She has 61 college credits, but not every college class met her degree requirements.
It’s no big deal to Lojic. She’d have to go to college anyway to take the nursing courses.
“They are all nursing classes and I can’t take those in high school,” Lojic said. “There are labs, clinicals and lectures within all those classes.”
So, Lojic will enroll in TC3 in the fall, complete the two-year nursing program and then transfer to another SUNY school for her remaining schooling toward a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Because of all the work she’s done, Lojic has gotten all of her prerequisites out of the way and will have a very light first semester, enabling her to just be a part-time student.
She will be able to work more, saving more for later tuition.
Savings number one
Burk estimates she’ll save $100,000 by shaving two years off her college career. She will attend Penn State in the fall, to the tune of $50,000 a year, she said.
After college, Burk wants to join the Peace Corps and one day pursue a career in international development.
She realizes she’s missing out on the full four-year college experience.
“I just don’t have as long a time there but the financial part of it was so important, saving all that money, that really outweighs it,” she said.
Kowalski sees the allure of tuition savings as the top reason that students enroll in the early degree program.
Some may also like the idea of graduating early, getting into the work force early and she thinks the state’s new Excelsior Scholarship program, with its requirement to graduate on time to avoid repaying the scholarship, may be another factor.
Not for everybody
Despite its draws, the early degree program isn’t for everyone, Kowalski said. The program had its first graduating cohort — two from Cortland High School — in 2010.
TC3’s CollegeNow program coordinates the program with their schools, meeting with the prospective student, teachers and guidance counselors, sometimes as early as the eighth grade, but often in their junior year.
It becomes clear whether expediting the student’s college career is a good idea, Kowalski said.
Some students benefit socially from spending the full four years in college.
And the program fits best with a certain personality, she said. “If you’re a major procrastinator, it’s not good.”
Also, some degree programs don’t lend themselves to graduating early, she said. Engineering programs, for example, usually have specific requirements unique to the institution.
Some Ivy League schools also don’t accept transferred credits, which Lojic learned when she was exploring going to Cornell University.
For a student who is already busy with sports and jobs and activities, an early degree program would increase stress, Kowalski said.
The program is a better fit the student who is already going to take advanced courses, and can then just sign up to take them for college credit.
“Now you’re just getting it for college credit as opposed to senior level English,” Kowalski said.
And for some, it may mean an extra $100,000.