Two years of college for free? New Wichita program makes it possible

A new program at Wichita Northwest High School will allow students to earn two years worth of college credit for free by the time they graduate high school.

The Early College Academy, a partnership between the Wichita school district and Friends University, will launch next fall. This year’s eighth-graders will be the first class eligible to apply.

“This is wonderful,” said Sheril Logan, president of the Wichita school board. “We need to sing this song loud and hard.”

Information about the program will be available at the district’s annual Showcase of Choices and Opportunities (formerly called the Choices Fair), 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Century II Exhibition Hall. Applications are available on Northwest’s website and at

Fifty students will be selected for the first freshman class. Officials said the Early College Academy will target traditionally underrepresented students, such as those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and they want the program to mirror the overall demographics of the district.

Beginning the summer before their sophomore year, students will take some classes on the Friends University campus. Throughout high school they’ll take dual- and concurrent-credit courses — some at Friends and some at Northwest — including music appreciation, college algebra, American government, microeconomics and philosophy.

By senior year, students enrolled in the program will spend the majority of their class time at Friends. They’ll earn up to 54 credit hours and be able to start college as a third-year student.

They’ll also get instruction on study skills, time management and other college success strategies. Students will be required to maintain a 3.0 grade point average.

The college credits, which officials say are transferable to any university, will be free for students in the Early College Academy. The district will pay Friends $50 per credit hour — the rate most Wichita students pay for concurrent-credit classes.

“There are some rock stars out there where their family might be saying, ‘Here’s an opportunity for us to change the trajectory of our family, and we want to really get into this program,’” said Terrell Davis, executive director of public affairs and special projects.

“Here’s our opportunity to really make a targeted decision to open up some opportunities to students to see life outside of high school.”

Students enrolled in the Early College Academy will start class an hour earlier — 7 a.m. — and be dismissed at 2:10 p.m.

“While the times of the program will be different than the rest of the school, the students will be completely a part of the Northwest High School community,” said Eric Hofer-Holdeman, principal at Northwest.

Similar to the districtwide International Baccalaureate program at East High, the Early College Academy will be “a school within a school,” Davis said. Students who choose to participate in fine arts or athletics will do so at Northwest.

Amy Bragg Carey, president of Friends, said the university is delighted to partner with the Wichita district on the program, regardless of whether enrolled students end up attending Friends.

“It’s our desire to give this vision for college to as many students in the Wichita area as possible, to give them the sense that they can do it,” Carey said.