With the expansion of a partnership between Aiken Technical College and the Aiken County School District, ATC will designate the collaboration as Aiken Early College.

The intent is to give high school juniors and seniors opportunities to attend ATC at the same time, earning college credits through dual enrollment with the potential to complete a year of college and saving much of their college tuition costs.

Aiken Early College will give students the chance “to gain access to a supportive environment that can help ease the transition from high school to college,” said ATC President Dr. Susan Winsor in a press release.

School Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt said students will have the opportunity to be career- and college-ready.

The School District and Aiken Tech initially established the pre-engineering program in 2011, giving high school students a chance to pursue ATC classes in the sciences. The general education classes will direct students toward the humanities.

Students seeking six credits per semester at Aiken Early College can seek lottery tuition assistance. Engineering Academy students can apply for a scholarship established by former Sen. Greg Ryberg and his wife Betty, according to an Aiken Tech press release.

An Aiken Early College night will be held for interested students currently in the 10th and 11th grades at ATC's amphitheater on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m. Those interested in applying should meet with their high school guidance counselor to begin that process.

For more information, students and parents may call ATC's recruitment coordinator, Sherrie Wilson, at 803-508-7351 or email collegenow@atc.edu.

The expansion discussion began about two months ago, said Dr. Tim Yarborough, the School District's academic officer for high schools.

Now, ATC and the District are at the point where students are registering for classes through their individual graduation plan as sophomores – helping them determine a career interest with new information available to them.

“Students can get their foot in the door,” Yarborough said. “College level courses are a real inducement to graduate on time and (Everitt) fully supports that.”

The Early College concept can help students complete their post-secondary education early at a cost savings, Winsor said.

The School District is committed to giving students many alternatives, Yarborough said. All middle school students have the opportunity to earn at least three high school credits before starting ninth grade. Three years later, they may need only two to four credits to finish early.

“We have to be responsible with all the virtual opportunities out there,” Yarborough said. “As we look for ways to accelerate the process, trying to latch on to that and offering them the chance to finish high school in three years. That gets their attention. Kids need a shot in the arm.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter. He has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.