Skip to Main Content
Student Success

Early College Academy enrollment growing as news spreads about opportunity

First cohort of ECA graduates delighted to get associate degree for free before the end of high school

Student Success

Early College Academy enrollment growing as news spreads about opportunity

Branson Gabbard
Branson Gabbard, Hamilton High School

Two years ago, while finishing his sophomore year at Hamilton High School, Branson Gabbard had not seriously thought about college. No one in his family was a college graduate, and money for tuition was scarce. But after learning about the launch of Miami University Regionals Early College Academy (ECA), Gabbard reconsidered his 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."

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 high school seniors who will graduate in the first cohort of Early College Academy, which launched in the fall of 2022. 

He plans to continue at the Regionals in the fall, working toward a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with the goal to eventually become a police officer. He is one of 11 ECA students 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.

These first students came from Hamilton and Middletown high schools and were part of an initial group of 27 who paved the way as the program sought to expand college opportunity for first-generation students and those from underrepresented backgrounds, closing equity gaps in completion rates for higher education.

Today, ECA encompasses more than 100 students from six school districts around the region, and these numbers are growing, said Alicia Justice, director of dual credit programs at Miami Regionals. By next fall, the program is expected to expand to 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 supports 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 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.

Caleb Thomas
Caleb Thomas, Hamilton High School

Sometimes, you need a little help

What makes ECA unique from other early college programs is the number of enhanced services included that help high school students navigate the unfamiliar college environment. Each student is assigned to a success coach who regularly reviews their progress and offers advice and resources. The goal is to prevent any student from feeling overwhelmed and dropping out.

Success Coach Chris Urso spends time each week with all of his ECA students and said much of it is used for problem-solving.

“They know me well enough now that they feel they can trust me,” he said. “I’m not here to judge them, just to help. Once a week, we look at their grades. It incentivizes them, and if things are not going as well as they want, they know they can get help. It allows them to walk into this college setting knowing they have support.”

Students such as Caleb Thomas, from Hamilton High School, said this resource was invaluable.

“My success coach was a very important figure in my life,” said Thomas, who will graduate with a 4.0 GPA this spring. “I was at the study room three to four times per week,” he said of the dedicated room on campus where ECA students can come for study time, resources, or just to hang out. “Without these services, it would have left me feeling a little more behind.”

Thomas said he felt supported throughout his experience at the Regionals, and found campus life welcoming and friendly, something he was apprehensive about when he enrolled in the program.

“I was a little nervous to be on campus and work with other college students,” Thomas said. “But I was surprised at how friendly everyone was — the students and the professors. They never treated me differently. I always felt included.”

In the fall, he plans to continue his education at Miami’s Oxford campus and pursue a Bachelor of Arts in English with the hopes of eventually attending graduate school and teaching.

Evelyn Huspen
Evelyn Huspen, Middletown High School

Other students crave independence

For Evelyn Huspen, of Middletown High School, enrolling in ECA meant the chance to break free of what she saw as the limits of high school and expand her learning environment on a college campus.

“I was ready to take control of my own education,” Huspen said. “I wanted a more hands-on experience than I could get in high school, and I wanted to be more independent. I knew the direction I wanted to go.”

Huspen said she never had any doubts she would attend college, but the cost was a worry. She wants to study English and eventually possibly apply to medical school, but she has not decided where she will pursue her bachelor’s degree yet. 

No matter where her next steps take her, she has been happy to have the chance to get a jump start through the ECA program, which will significantly reduce the cost of her overall education.

“Getting these two years under my belt is a very big opportunity,” she said. “I’m still deciding on my future education, but wherever I go, I know that I’m prepared because of Early College Academy.”