NCC partnership program can help WHS students earn 24 credits

All parents tired of paying AP course fees take note: Your student may be eligible to gain those credits completely free at Norwalk Community College.

Thanks to a special High School Partnership program the college shares with Wilton High School, area students with a 3.0 GPA or higher, and a recommendation from high school administrators, qualify to take any of Norwalk Community College’s courses completely free.

The program, which has roots in the late 1980s, has had numerous Wilton participants in the past. But until recently, according to Sue Mangan of the Wilton High School guidance department, few students have utilized the program.

“Last year we might have had kids that took advantage of it, but they graduated,” Ms. Mangan said. “This year we have one girl, but the paperwork hasn’t been processed yet.”

The program is for juniors and seniors in high school, and they are limited to two courses per semester.

“You could conceivably take 24 credits over the course of high school,” said Bill Chagnon, director of admissions at Norwalk Community College. “I’ve had a couple of people who do continue class during the summers, and pay for it out of pocket. I’ve had people get to 30 credits by the time they graduated high school.”

All of the classes are online or on campus in Norwalk, the admissions director said, and are always outside of normal high school hours, on weekends, or in the afternoon.

Mr. Chagnon said only between 22 and 24 students are currently enrolled in the program. One of the major inhibitors, he said, is students’ very busy lives.

“I’ve got a couple of schools who are really enthusiastic about the program,” he said. “We’ve got 11 from Stamford right now. Out of the 24 I have this semester, the rest are spread around different schools.”

The problem is that “it’s demanding,” he said. “There is something to be said about extracurricular activities in high school, too, like tutoring, debate team, or track. It’s not necessarily a good idea to give that up to take a class here.”

For those students who can fit it into their schedule, however, Mr. Chagnon said it’s an excellent way to supplement a high school education.

“It’s a nice enhancement to high school,” he said. “For one student, it gave him the opportunity to take differential equations because he’s out of math classes at his high school. Some students will come to me and say, I’m taking AP chemistry and I can’t fit AP physics in my schedule, can I take it at NCC?”

It also gives young students the chance to see what college is all about, Mr. Chagnon said. He sees many students who come into college not ready for the demanding course load.

“They really get an idea of what college is about: the workload, responsibility, the atmosphere. It gives them an insight into what they will expect from college, which is so different than high school. It’s really the amount of work they have to do outside of the classroom, and the self-motivation they have to get that done. No one around here is chasing you down for the homework,” he said.

Another thing keeping students from participating in the program, especially from suburban schools he said, is the perception of Norwalk Community College as less than acceptable.

“I’ve been doing this 22 years,” Mr. Chagnon said. “The perception of the community college has certainly improved over those 22 years, but there is still a stereotype. … We’ve got great advocates of Norwalk in Wilton High School, but it comes down to the perception of parents and the kids.”