Syracuse University Magazine

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East Syracuse Minoa (ESM) chemistry teacher Sally Mitchell (center) leads an SU Project Advance chemistry class through a lab exercise. Also pictured (from left) are Venice Magunga, Jessica Barbini, Chris Schiavone, and Andrew Rosso.



Still the Best Cure for Senioritis

The concurrent enrollment program celebrates 40 years of helping high school seniors get a jump on college

Far out! Right on! Can you dig it? Much slang from the early 1970s might only be exclaimed these days by baby boomers or heard on old Hanna-Barbera cartoons. But at least one word used in high school back in the day still has currency. “Yes, we talked about ‘senioritis’ in high school,” says Rachel Mandel ’15, a Coronat Scholar in the College of Arts and Sciences and a graduate of the Bronx (New York) High School of Science. “I saw friends slack off once they were accepted at college, and those who took their foot off the gas have seen their grades drop.”

As a high school senior, Mandel definitely did not slack off. Among other advanced classes, she took Forensic Science (CHE 113) at Bronx High School through Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA), a concurrent enrollment program that allows qualified high school seniors to take SU classes for credit at their schools. 

SUPA—now celebrating its 40th year—got its start because of a local epidemic of senioritis. In 1972, six Central New York high schools approached SU about establishing a program to address college-bound seniors’ lack of motivation and college preparation. SU proposed that high school teachers, trained as adjunct professors, could teach university credit-bearing courses during the school day. Senioritis would be mitigated—and students given a jump on their college careers—through rigorous courses, readings, and labs, similar in every way to those experienced on campus. 

To ensure University standards were maintained, SU faculty would train the teachers, review syllabi, and visit classes once a semester.  For their part, only high school teachers with a master’s degree and five years’ experience could apply to teach in the program. To be certified, they would have to complete adjunct instructor training under faculty supervision at SUPA’s annual Summer Institute—still held to this day on campus in June and July—and attend mandatory, subject-specific professional development seminars every year. 

Standing Out

In 1973, SUPA offered five SU courses in nine schools. Thanks to careful, collaborative design by faculty and the former Center for Instructional Development, by 1982-83 SUPA had grown to eight courses in 73 schools, serving more than 3,300 students. Today, 10,200 students in more than 200 high schools—across five states and three continents—can choose from 38 courses in disciplines encompassing humanities; languages; pre-law; business; and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

Right from the beginning, SUPA’s model—the rigor of its curriculum, the mandatory training of teachers, and continuous evaluation—meant the program stood out among other concurrent enrollment programs. In fact, it became—and remains—a model for similar programs at Indiana University, University of Pittsburgh, and elsewhere, and its standards eventually were adopted by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), an advocacy body that has twice accredited SUPA. 

For education advocates such as NACEP, the term “college readiness” has supplanted “senioritis” in a national debate on how well high schools prepare students for university and whether universities are communicating the skills they require. “There are rumors about college in high school,” Mandel recalls. “You hear you’ll get in trouble if you miss one class, or professors talk too fast, or they don’t care about your success. To me, readiness means knowing what college is really like.” Thanks to SUPA, Mandel says her college transition was fairly easy. “There were more similarities than I expected, and CHE 113 prepared me with long-term projects, lots of group work, and lectures,” she says. “Plus, passing the course helped me meet my freshman chemistry sequence!”

High school students also encounter the belief that they are prepared for college, though that may not be the case. “I found the academic side of the college step-up was just assumed,” says Jesse Feitel ’13, a College of Arts and Sciences student who is a Remembrance Scholar and undergraduate representative to the SU Board of Trustees. “It was taken for granted that we’d know research, citations, and have the right work ethic.” Feitel, who took SU English and writing courses at Northport (New York) High School, admits these classes were difficult. “I had a semester-long project, something I’d never experienced, but a great teacher helped me,” says Feitel, who is applying for law school. “I learned library skills, college writing, and collaboration, all of which will be important to me as a lawyer.” 

School of Education professor Marlene Blumin agrees that college readiness behaviors are taken for granted. “Good college students self-monitor behavior, manage reading and note-taking, and balance work and life,” says Blumin, director of SU’s study skills program, designer of the SUPA-offered course College Learning Strategies (CLS 105), and a SUPA faculty advisor. “They know that a syllabus is a road map for learning, and they use their learning across disciplines—taking knowledge from English and applying it to economics, for instance.”

Early on, however, Blumin realized no one teaches a student how to be a student. “I’ve set out to demystify the college learning process, bringing CLS 105 to high schools through SUPA,” says Blumin, noting SUPA allows students to experience academic life in a safe environment. “And this familiarity is a large part of the program’s success.”

Key Enhancements

For SUPA director Professor Gerald Edmonds, the program’s growth hasn’t just been a matter of ever-rising enrollment numbers. “We’ve also added key enhancements to spur students’ intellectual growth, teachers’ professional development, and the strengthening of K-12 learning communities,” he says. SUPA’s recent enhancements include offering Blumin’s College Learning Strategies class as a middle school teacher professional development course and piloting “SUPA Academies.” These academies—being introduced in underserved schools—will nurture cohorts of handpicked, high-performing students. They will begin their college preparation in 9th grade by taking advanced high school classes and eventually, starting in 11th grade, by tackling a full complement of SU introductory classes. “These initiatives continue our commitment to address the challenges students from all backgrounds face adapting to college,” Edmonds says, “and to ensure that increased college access is matched by greater expectations of college success.”

In 40 years, there have been many young people like Feitel and Mandel—more than 200,000—transformed into scholars by Project Advance. By developing a novel cure for senioritis in 1972-73, SUPA became a pioneer in the concurrent enrollment movement. Today, SU can look proudly on a program that is not only the largest of its kind, but also a template for other colleges and universities to follow.   —Martin Walls




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ESM students Alec Miller (left) and Esef Hamzic work on the lab exercise.



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SU students Rachel Mandel ’15 and Jesse Feitel ’13 credit SU Project Advance with preparing them for their college studies.

Photos by Torry Mendoza