New Miami U. early college program has high school grads earning 2 diplomas this spring

HAMILTON, MIDDLETOWN – A two-year-old experimental program to speed local high school students to a Miami University associate’s degree will soon see the program’s first dual high school and college graduates with dozens more teens signed up to follow in their footsteps.

Miami’s Early College Academy (ECA) program with Hamilton and Middletown high schools is working and expanding to help more students earn free college credits — and two-year associate degrees — while in high school, said Miami officials.

Among the early college programs pioneer class is Hamilton High School senior and soon-to-be Miami regional graduate Branson Gabbard.

Gabbard and some of the other initial ECA student class from at the two Butler County high schools recently told Miami officials how the experimental program has changed their lives.

A college education wasn’t on Gabbard’s radar until his sophomore year of high school. Money was tight for his family, and none of his relatives had gone the college route.

But learning about the new ECA program opened his eyes and his life’s options.

“As a first-generation college student, I wasn’t sure about attending college, and we didn’t have the funds,” he said. “But I saw a great opportunity with the ECA program to go for free and earn a degree,” according to Miami officials.

In May, Gabbard will graduate with both his high school diploma and an Associate in Arts degree from Miami University Regionals. He is one of 19 local high school seniors who will graduate in the first cohort class of the Early College Academy, which launched in the fall of 2022.

He plans to continue at the Miami Regionals in the fall, working toward a four-year Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with the goal to eventually become a police officer.

He is one of 11 ECA students currently continuing at Miami for their bachelor’s degrees.

Gabbard can potentially enter the workforce with a four-year degree two years ahead of most of his peers and at a significantly lower cost.

And that was one of the main goals of the ECA, said Miami officials, who noted the program has since been expanded to some other Butler County school systems.

Alicia Justice, director of Miami’s dual credit program, said ECA now encompasses more than 100 students from seven school districts around the region, and the number of participating teens is growing with a total projected for this coming fall of more than 200 students.

“At least 52 percent of our students are from minority backgrounds, and 70 percent are first-generation college students,” said Justice. “These are students who might not have the support they need to attend college.

“This (program) is giving them a fighting chance.”

ECA offers high school juniors the opportunity to take 15 credit hours each semester during their junior and senior year. Tuition and fees are covered by the program, and transportation to Hamilton and Middletown’s Miami campuses and lunch are provided by their high school.

After graduation, students can continue at Miami or take their credits to any public university in Ohio to continue their education. They can also choose to enter the workforce with their associate degree.

For more information, see Miami’s Early College Academy website.

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