"You're allowed to eat in class. I love it. You're also allowed to just get up and go to the bathroom without signing anything or taking a pass," high school senior Laci Breen said.
Breen has gotten a newfound taste of independence in a college classroom as part of Collegiate Start at Elon, a program that lets area high school students take up to two college courses. This means she leaves high school every day at 11:20 a.m. and on Mondays and Wednesdays, she commutes 25 minutes to Elon to take media writing and public speaking. The other days of the week Breen works at her LabCorp internship.
"When I tell people I'm taking Elon classes, they're like, wow, look at you," Breen said.
According to the program's director, Dr. Janelle Rouse, area high schools vet juniors and seniors for Collegiate Start. The students have to meet the same admissions requirements as Elon undergraduates, including an application process, GPA, SAT or ACT, and teacher recommendations.
"The application has to be signed by the guidance counselor, signed by the principal, that they [the high school] are sending a student of great character, one of their upstanding students, and that, also, the student will be able to handle and is ready for high college-level work," Dr. Rouse said.
Breen said she's up for the challenges of the "high-level" work, but acknowledges its difficulties compared to high school.
"There were only four exams put into the grade book [in an Elon class], so that was kind of terrible. So, it shows just how serious they are. And here [in high school], we did a team building exercise the first day and everyone got a 100 for it," Breen said.
In addition to the course load being a bit heavier, Breen has noticed a difference in the maturity levels of her fellow students.
"Kids in here [high school], some of them just don't even do and think, hey it's an easy class, and some don't even care. I'm sure when they're paying for it they're going to care. But right now, it's a public school, and they're just like, 'I just want to graduate,' " she said.
Those currently paying for school through the Collegiate program pay $420 per semester, with their respective school districts paying half of the tuition, according to Dr. Rouse. Elon offers financial aid for low-income students as well.
"It's a great tuition break, so that really really sells for students that they are getting a quality education, getting a quality academic experience here at Elon for a fraction of the cost of what a semester would be for taking two courses," Dr. Rouse said.
She said about 100 students per year are sold on this tuition break. The most come from Western and Williams high schools, with just a few from Cummings and other schools farther away from Elon. The program is trying to recruit more students from these outlying schools, according to Dr. Rouse.
"Some of the things we struggle with is access to campus. That's always a struggle for students who are in some of our outlying schools. Some of them do not have transportation, particularly for our low-income students," Dr. Rouse said.
Regardless of the school students come from, Dr. Rouse said all members of the program are treated like college students. She believes this benefits not only the high school students, but Elon undergraduates and professors as well.
"I think our high school students, they bring kind of a different perspective in from their experiences in high school and then can fold those into discussions and class projects," Dr. Rouse said. "I think it's a win win for everyone; for our students, for our collegiate students, for our Elon undergraduates, and for our faculty. It's just a win win across the board."
Breen has noticed that she is treated no differently than the undergraduates in her classes at Elon.
"The professor was like, well, you're not a senior anymore. We're going to treat you like a college student. And they do," Breen said.
And in less than a year, Breen hopes to join these undergraduates as a college student herself. She has been accepted to Elon, and with help from financial aid, she will attend the university in the fall.