JumpStart Offers High School Alternative to Combat Soaring College Cost


Rebecca Nason

According to the International Journal of Education Research, 98% of dual-enrollment credits, like ones earned at HCC, will transfer to a post-secondary institution, but only 42% of AP credits will.

Bryan Cheung, a junior at Centennial High School, will be the first person in his family to earn a college degree and will graduate in 2021 with both his high school diploma and his AA in engineering because of the JumpStart program. He chose to participate in the program because college gave him more freedom and course rigor than what was available at his high school. “I’m able to experience college life as a first-generation student while experiencing high school at the same time,” Cheung said. 

As the cost of college continues to rise and more students look for alternatives to traditional four-year college, a new county-wide dual-enrollment program is offering a low-cost option. Students have the opportunity to choose from over a hundred courses at Howard Community College (HCC) that count toward both high school and college graduation. The program, called JumpStart, was initially introduced to reduce overcrowding at a few schools in the county. Due to its success, JumpStart has now been introduced at every high school in the county and program options range from highly structured four-year plans to flexible options during a student’s senior year. 

“JumpStart is a program that is constantly evolving,” Rebecca Morrow, an HCC academic and dual-enrollment advisor, said. “In 2019, JumpStart had a 48% increase in the number of students participating from the previous year and we expect the program to continue to grow.” 

Overcrowding is an undeniable issue in Howard County, with seven of the twelve high schools over capacity according to the 2019 HCPSS feasibility study. Alec McNamara is a senior at Mt. Hebron High School, which is currently operating at 117 percent capacity. “A large part of why I decided to participate in the JumpStart program is because of the overcrowded nature of Mt. Hebron,” he said. “The high density of students made an environment that wasn’t conducive to education.”

Students can participate in one of four basic tracks: high school-based college credit, HCC campus-based college credit, early college 30 credit, and early college 60 credits, which allows students to graduate with their Associate Degree. The first two programs are open to students of any grade level, and students can elect to take as many or as few courses as they want. The early college programs are intended for rising ninth or tenth-grade students who can commit to rigorous study. “JumpStart offers students [the opportunity] to enroll in a college-level course, develop skills to succeed in college, and explore a variety of career opportunities while earning college credit and, in some cases, high school credit,” Morrow said.

Cole Zeder, a senior at Howard High School, decided to give the JumpStart program a try to get a head start on college credits. He’d always planned to attend the University of Maryland (UMD) after graduation and an agreement between HCC and UMD guarantees graduates of the community college admission to the university if they maintain a 3.0 GPA. Furthermore, HCPSS students are eligible for 50 percent off  HCC tuition, and tuition is waived for students who qualify for Free and Reduced Meals (FARMs). “I plan to attend HCC for another year or so to get basic credits out of the way for cheap,” Zeder said, “Then I’ll transfer to College Park.”

Transfer credits weren’t Zeder’s only motivation for participating in the program though. Zeder’s only HCPSS class this year was the Applied Research Laboratory’s (ARLs) architecture course.

“I wasn’t enjoying high school at all,” Zeder said. “Joining the JumpStart program gave me the opportunity to start over with new people.” 

JumpStart, although largely a success, has had growing pains. Zeder wishes there were more bus times to HCC so that even if a student doesn’t have access to a car they can still have the opportunity to take classes at more times throughout the day. Cheung wishes information and opportunities were better communicated between HCC, HCPSS, and students. “JumpStart students are HCC students,” Morrow said. “They have access to HCC campus resources such as counseling and career services, campus based tutoring and computer labs, clubs, and events.” Cheung learned about many of these resources on his own, but hopes in the future schools will do a better job of informing students about these kinds of services.

“The JumpStart program has had a huge impact on my life,” Alec McNamara concludes. “The flexibility of my schedule and the independence it grants me has made a huge impact on my performance in school and the quality of my education.”