SUNY Potsdam completes first semester of College Unlimited program for high school students

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POTSDAM — Among the freshmen currently facing finals at SUNY Potsdam are 14 teenage students who are not only completing their first semester of college, but their final year of high school as well.

This semester marks the first year of the College Unlimited @ SUNY Potsdam program, which lets teens who have completed most of their high school requirements finish them while taking college courses. It provides students who may not have access to advanced programs in their high schools a chance to get a head start on their education.

“We’re just starting, so we’re not sure where it will end up, but it has the full support of our president, and we’re very excited about it,” said Walter Conley, interim dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies.

The students must have a B average and have completed at least 14 units of social studies, English, foreign language, science and mathematics at their high school to apply. Because the students come from 11 different schools, as well as one home-schooled student, almost all of them have different requirements they have to fulfill for graduation. To make sure the requirements are fulfilled, their course work is approved by a school guidance counselor or principle.

“Every student’s situation is different, depending on what opportunities are available to them at their high school,” said Karla M. Fennell, coordinator of early college programs.

While half the students are from St. Lawrence County, others are coming from as far away as Orange and Chautauqua counties. The students are evenly split between commuters and students living on campus, which has presented its own challenges. While Ms. Fennell tried to keep the residential students in a cohort, some of them had opted for different kinds of housing, like co-education floors or rooms.

“Even trying to keep them all on the same floor has been a challenge,” Ms. Fennell said. “It’s hard to have one floor that does it for everyone.”

It’s early in the semester to see how the students have done academically, but so far all seems to be going well. Both the commuter students and residential students have become engaged with extracurricular activities as well. Students have joined a variety of clubs including the Honors Program, theater and musical productions and gender and sexuality alliance, and one is running cross-country and track for Potsdam.

After this year, the students will both have completed their high school diplomas and the first year of their college education.

“They’ll be like any other student who had finished their freshman year,” Ms. Fennell said. Out of the current class, all but two of the students plan on remaining at Potsdam. The track and field runner wants to compete at a Division 1 level and another student wants to study nursing, which Potsdam does not offer. For these students, Ms. Fennell acts a guidance counselor.

“She does counsel them into other colleges, if they desire,” Mr. Conley said.

Because of the intense work involved in making individual schedules for all the students, working out living arrangements, and helping some of them transfer to other schools, Ms. Fennell wants to keep the CUSP classes small for the time being.

“They’ll have customized, one-on-one individualized programs,” Ms. Fennell said. She is hoping for 25 students in the program next year, with an eventual goal to grow it to 60 to 75 students. But even with all the challenges of such an individualized program, it seems to be going well so far.

“The students are doing fantastic,” Ms. Fennell said. “We appear to be successful in what we hoped to do.”

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