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High School Juniors, College Freshmen

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pittsburgh -- By the time Maddie Peterson graduates from Moon High School in 2015 she will have completed an entire semester’s worth of courses at Robert Morris University, allowing her to earn a college degree in less time and for less money than would otherwise be possible.

Peterson is among the first group of students at Moon High School to participate in the RMU First Semester College in High School Program, which allows qualified students to enroll in college courses taught by RMU faculty at the students’ high school. So far Moon and Montour high schools are participating, with South Fayette and West Allegheny looking to start in the spring.

“This program with RMU allows a number of our eligible students a valuable head start on their post-graduate educational career. With RMU offering a tuition discount, it is also a win financially for our parents,” said Moon High School principal Barry Balaski.

Here’s how it works: Students who are juniors and have at least a 2.5 GPA apply for the program through their high schools. Those who are selected take one class each semester, including the summer, over the following two years. Robert Morris gives students a 70 percent tuition discount, saving those who take all five courses more than $8,000 based on the university’s current tuition.

The courses are offered on Saturdays at Moon and on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at Montour. Peterson is currently enjoying an RMU communications skills class taught by part-time faculty member Rose-Anne Vigilante.

“Mrs. Vigilante makes the class so much fun. I think I can speak for the whole class in saying that it is amazing, interesting, and so different from high school. I am thoroughly enjoying the class and am so glad that I'm involved in this program,” said Peterson.

In addition to communication skills, students will take mathematics, psychology, sociology, and environmental science. The courses should transfer easily to another institution if the students choose not to enroll at RMU after they graduate, said Larry Tomei, vice provost at Robert Morris.

The First Semester College in High School Program was Tomei’s brainchild, and it grew out of two other dual-enrollment programs at Robert Morris that allowed high school students to take a single university course. The idea to expand those programs came to Tomei as he listened to a discussion at a meeting of the RMU Board of Trustees about rising student loan debt and college costs.

“I thought, ‘What are some ways that RMU can attack those two issues?’ I’m thinking if our dual-enrollment programs work for one course, let’s do it for the entire first semester of college,” said Tomei.

Fifteen students are participating in the program at Moon, and eight at Montour. Tomei said he has received inquiries from several other local high schools about expanding the program, and he is hoping that as many as 12 districts sign on next year.

Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.