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After-school activity? Try college.

Colleges are eagerly opening their doors to high-schoolers in search of bigger challenges.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 2, 1999


Each day, Jeremy Hoge bounds out of bed at 5:30 a.m. for an early band practice at Richfield High School near Minneapolis. Later, after advanced algebra, he dashes home for lunch. Then he grabs a different pile of textbooks and heads off to college.

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The high school junior admits to feeling edgy last fall when he filed into an auditorium with 400 freshmen at the University of Minnesota. "They started handing out the syllabus with all the reading," he says. "I never imagined that much." Still, he pulled A's at high school and B's at the university.

Jeremy is not all that unusual. There are 850 high-schoolers attending the University of Minnesota alone, and 6,200 others in colleges statewide. And it looks as if many more motivated high-schoolers may be headed to college part time in coming years, experts say.

Driving them is frustration with schools that offer few enrichment programs. How to best serve such students is the subject of a US Department of Education study due out this fall. A bill pending in the US House of Representatives envisions $160 million to bolster gifted and talented programs. But in the interim, many say college can keep these students engaged.

Gifted students can find the more-challenging classes they crave. Other young people can locate sought-after specialized fare. Still others, with an eye to saving money, will get a jump-start on college with credits that are often bankrolled by state funds.

And just as young students are pursuing more options, colleges are rolling out the welcome mat. The result is a flowering of programs geared for the estimated 3 million gifted or talented students that make up 5 percent of the K-12 population.

The dual approach

Twenty-one states offer "dual-enrollment" options to high-schoolers, according to the Education Commission of the States in Denver. In 11 states that have "comprehensive" dual-enrollment programs, states pay tuition for college courses taken by high-schoolers - and the credits go both toward college and high school graduation.

Colleges view such programs as a "recruitment device" to lure top students, says Darryl Sedio, coordinator of enrollment options for the Minnesota Department of Children and Learning. The criteria for admission to such programs are left to the high school and college.

Yet the rush to help talented kids reach new heights academically and save on college means that parents sometimes vault kids into social environments beyond their years. "It's not for everyone," Mr. Sedio and others warn. "A lot of the kids just don't want to work that hard."

For students, some benefits are clear. Jeremy expects his accelerated approach to shave at least $10,000 and two years off his undergraduate years. A good idea, he says, since he plans to attend graduate school.

"I wasn't being challenged enough in my high school," he says. "When I heard about it I thought 'Wow, what a great idea - I can get free college and get some of it out of the way.' "

A popular option for motivated students is independent summer programs. Among the best known is the "Talent Search" program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which is open to even younger prodigies. Typically, for-credit courses covering a year's worth of biology or chemistry or math are squeezed into a single three-week session.

"Twice as many campuses are offering either summer or enrichment programs for gifted kids" compared with five years ago, says Peter Rosenstein, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children in Washington, a nonprofit advocacy group. "Kids want them because there still is no program in most public schools for gifted kids."