Much like high school athletes moving forward to play collegiate level sports, today 43 Murphy High School sophomores participated in the Mobile County Public School System’s first-ever Academic Signing Day — each publicly signing up for a “one-of-a-kind” partnership with the University of Alabama Early College.

Back in January, MCPSS in conjunction with the University of Alabama announced Mobile area high school students would be eligible to earn college credits at a new university center designed for college academics. The first such educational opportunity in the state, students were able to apply for admission to the Murphy University Center – a new wing at Murphy High School – to prepare for collegiate life like never before.

Murphy High School sophomores participate in Academic Signing Day — each publicly signing up for a “one-of-a-kind” partnership with the University of Alabama Early College.

Murphy High School sophomores participate in Academic Signing Day — each publicly signing up for a “one-of-a-kind” partnership with the University of Alabama Early College.

Students in the pilot class will begin taking their first UA Early College course April 13, which will act as an introduction to college. In this gateway class, students will have the opportunity to earn two hours of college credit, and if they continue through the duration of the program, students will be able to earn the full 26 credits, all of which will be transferable to any college by the time the students leave high school.

According to Rena Philips, MCPSS supervisor of marketing and partnerships, other universities were considered, but the credits offered by UA Early College will transfer broadly to not only to the University of Alabama but other colleges and universities as well.

Philips said Murphy High School was chosen for the program because it is one of the largest and most diverse high schools in the county’s public school system.

Gene Montgomery, International Baccalaureate (IB) Program Coordinator at Murphy High School, initiated the local establishment of the early college program and will serve as the dean of students at the Murphy University Center.

“It’s so great for the adults to put something together and let the students do the work and make it work,” he said during the signing ceremony before calling up each student to sign their name on the dotted line.

“This is a little affirmation this morning that what you’re doing is working, and we’re going to help you do more,” he added.

Montgomery stressed the importance of the early college program’s ability to ease the transition from high school to college and help students become better acclimated to more rigorous college courses.

Further, he said national trends show only 36 percent of college students graduate on time.

“That’s a travesty because that causes a national debt problem and student loans,” he said. “It causes students to drop out because they don’t have enough time in college.”

According to Montgomery, statistics indicate students who start taking college-level courses prior to stepping foot on a college campus will have a better success rate not only by gaining confidence in the classroom but also by eliminating some financial pressures associated with university life.

“Anything we can do to lower that financial pressure is going to help them graduate on time,” he said. “Those were the main things that I was looking at with how we can get our students more prepared and ready to take real meaningful steps forward in the future.”

Chief Academic Officer Karen Mohr congratulated students and applauded their hard work, acknowledging the program as the first of its kind in the state.

“That is quite a feat … you’re blazing the trail for others,” she told students.

Debra Morrow, a language arts teacher as Murphy, said she was “practically in tears” while she while watching several of her students gain admission into the early college program.

“I’m so proud of them,” she said. “Murphy High School is a good school. We have some good teachers and good, dedicated students.”

Parents like Ashley Hinton, whose daughter Summer was accepted into the program, were also present during the ceremony. Hinton said the opportunity for her daughter is “like icing on the cake” and she believes the early college program could kickstart much needed academic improvement in Mobile County.

“It’s a great feather in the Mobile County Public School System’s hat,” she said.

Students Imani Phillips and Kamryn Porter were somewhat shocked upon their admission, considering they were not already a part of the school’s IB Program like many of the students accepted into the early college program. The pair said they consider their acceptance a great honor, calling it “surreal.”

Both Phillips and porter said the University of Alabama was already one of their college interests — Phillips hoping to study chemistry and pursue anesthesiology and Porter still deciding between dermatology and early childhood education.

According to Murphy’s Principal, William Smith, the school’s University Center will boast a remodeled, 49-seat auditorium to be used for the early college program. Students will also participate in online classes as well as distance learning, where a classroom and professor in Tuscaloosa will be broadcast in the auditorium.

“It will look like a college building,” he said.

Further, the program will bring in various administrators and academic officials from the University of Alabama for one-on-one sessions with students about once a month, if not more, UA Early College Program Assistant Director Sonya Dunkin said.

“This is to help them get prepared, not just in their academics and get a head in the classroom, which they’re going to do, but also how to be a good college student. The dropout rate for college is tremendous … people are scared and don’t know what to do when they get there,” she said. “We hope to remove that fear and have it just as easy as putting on shoes.”

According to Dunkin, the UA Early College program started about six years ago with only 20 students and has blossomed to more than 1,500 from about 31 different states and several different countries.

“What makes our program unique from any others that we’ve found in the country is that we have a really strong support network in place for the students,” she said. “We don’t just throw them into a classroom with a TA and say good luck.”

Beginning in fall 2015, high school students throughout Mobile County will be eligible to apply for the program, though prospective students must be a current high school sophomore or junior with a 3.0 cumulative grade point average and a benchmark score on the ACT Aspire assessment.