"Eastern Promise" provides access to early college credit

Written by Kathy Aney, East Oregonian February 25, 2014 09:47 am

Here’s one recipe for academic success.

Take a slice of the educational world such as schools in northeast Oregon. Introduce students early to the idea of attending college, and let it marinate. Give them access to college classes while still in high school at only $10 per credit hour.

That’s Eastern Promise in a nutshell.

Robyn Frye, for instance, graduated from Hermiston High School only last spring, but is already a junior at George Fox University. Her mother, Lisa Frye, a chemistry teacher at HHS, said her daughter also took two classes directly from Blue Mountain Community College, but most classes were taught in high school by Hermiston teachers.

“The financial savings were huge,” Lisa said. “By shaving off those two years, she saved close to $80,000.”

Eastern Promise is a collaboration between three colleges (Blue Mountain Community College, Eastern OregonUniversity and Treasure Valley Community College) and 33 northeast Oregon school districts. The Intermountain Education Service District is the glue that holds them all together. The pilot program kicked off in 2011 and soon attracted grant funding from the state. The state’s Department of Education is now accepting proposals for similar programs in other parts of Oregon.

The state’s Chief Education Officer, Nancy Golden, called the program a model to replicate.

“This is the best model we have going so far,” Golden said. “Nobody has really cracked the code on accelerated learning like Eastern Promise.”

Monday, her voice flowed from a speaker phone sitting on a conference table in the office of Intermountain ESD Superintendent Mark Mulvihill. Gathered around were Mulvihill, Eastern Promise Executive Director Danny Mielke, Blue Mountain Community College President Camille Preus, Eastern Promise K-12 Director Kris Mulvihill and IMESD Communications Director Casey White.

The mood was celebratory, the ambiance of a group that had tasted success in even greater measure than they had originally dreamed.

Even the $465,000-$650,000 DOE grants bear the program’s imprint in the moniker — the Eastern Promise Replication Grant. The state will award two or three of them in April to consortia in Oregon that must be constructed similarly (with at least one Oregon university, at least one community college, at least three school districts and at least one education service district).

Mielke said students in the region racked up about 4,000 credit hours in the last year.

“We have two overarching goals,” he said. “The first is to increase access to early college credits and the second is to create a college-going culture.”

The latter is accomplished by talking about college in grade school and helping students formulate their own plans and imagine themselves in college. High school freshmen take a college course called Success 101.

Kris Mulvihill talks about Eastern Promise with undisguised passion for a program that gets students to college and gets them there cheaply. Theoretically, a student could earn a college degree for less than $3,000.

“Not only does Eastern Promise prepare students for the rigors of college, but it saves them money,” she said.

Robyn Frye’s mother said her daughter didn’t have to slave every minute to cut two years and $80,000 from her college journey. She participated in theatre and helped with a church youth group. In her senior year, she worked a part-time job.

“She dedicated herself,” Lisa Frye said, “but it was very doable.”

Mark Mulvihill, along with everyone else at the table, has worked long hours on the program. He said he is proud of the grassroots effort.

“This is organic,” he said. “We started it out of our own budgets.”