College Advantage Program Thrives amidst COVID-19 Challenges

Teacher in front of a class
December 16, 2020

For high school juniors and seniors, 2020 was anything but a typical year. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students were confronted with the “new normal” of remote learning, hybrid models, and uncertainty over how long each would last.

During these challenging times, St. John’s University strives to provide a continuum of services to all students—including the record-number, 5,300-plus high school juniors and seniors enrolled in its successful College Advantage Program (CAP).

CAP, which allows qualified high school juniors and seniors to take credit-bearing courses through St. John’s in English, mathematics, language, fine arts, science, and the humanities, saw an uptick in student registration from the prior year despite the pandemic, according to Program Director Cecelia M. Russo.

“Students still want to learn, and CAP provides an excellent opportunity to get a head start on college at a reduced cost,” she observed.

In a similar fashion as their college counterparts, CAP students quickly transitioned to remote learning and hybrid models (i.e., a combination of in-person and remote learning) when the pandemic took hold in March. “The teachers really did an amazing job,” Ms. Russo noted.

The program, created in 1976 and originally known as High School Extension, was born out of requests from high school administrators to provide academic encouragement for their seniors and a jump on college courses. Originally only two schools offered enrollment to their qualified juniors and seniors. Today, CAP enjoys articulation agreements with more than 150 high schools throughout the five boroughs, as well as Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties.

CAP provides qualifying high school juniors and seniors with the opportunity to enroll concurrently in high school and credit-bearing St. John’s courses for $325 per course—a deep discount from regular undergraduate tuition rates. College Advantage students who enroll at St. John’s University the semester after high school graduation also receive a $3,000 tuition grant per year.

St. John’s applications from CAP students have risen steadily during the last three years: 1,849 students applied in the Fall of 2018, and there were 1,872 and 2,110 applications in the following years.

William C. Anderson is a Curriculum Associate for grades K–12 in the Department of World Languages and English as a New Language in the Massapequa School District. He applauds the CAP program for several reasons. “Massapequa High School students really benefit from the College Advantage Program,” he said. “Not only is the tuition deeply discounted, but the World Language courses are at the 200 level. The students and parents are thrilled to have the opportunity to earn inexpensive credits prior to graduation.”

“CAP provides our students with the ability to earn a significant amount of college credit while still in high school,” observed Darius J. Penikas ’19Ed.D., Principal of Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens.

“It encourages our students to go beyond the basic high school curriculum and get a head start on their college careers. Our students take a deeper dive into the academic areas that interest them and bring their studies to the next level. St. John’s has been an enthusiastic and innovative partner in helping create these new and exciting opportunities.”

Lawrence V. Musanti, Principal of Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island, NY, noted that his school has been involved with the program for more than 20 years. “Our students greatly benefit from their participation in CAP,” he said. “Since the curricula for all of the classes have been approved by the academic departments at St. John’s, our young men have the assurance that what they are being taught is truly at the college level. For some, it is an eye-opening experience, and serves as their introduction to what will be expected of them in college.”

“For many years, St. John’s University’s College Advantage Program has endeavored to help motivated high school students begin the next step in their academic journey while providing them with financial assistance and the same quality education our enrolled students enjoy,” said Jorge L. Rodriguez, Vice Provost and Chief Enrollment Officer.

“Like so many other programs, CAP faced its share of challenges in 2020, but instructors, whose credentials and course outlines have been approved by St. John’s department chairs, rose to the occasion,” he continued. “They adjusted to whatever models were necessary to ensure our students did not miss any of the great benefits this program offers.”