Changes to the ESSENCE Program


(Release: May 29, 2013) - Officials at Washington County Public Schools (WCPS) and Hagerstown Community College (HCC) are working to ensure compliance with a new Maryland law aimed at improving college readiness and completion. This will include a joint plan between HCC and WCPS to address changes to the dual enrollment program for high school students, as a result of the new law.
The College Readiness and Completion Act was signed into law on May 16 by Gov. Martin O’Malley and becomes effective for the fall 2013 semester. The law establishes a number of requirements aimed at increasing college readiness and completion in Maryland. The act incorporates several education initiatives from across the nation, including high school curriculum and graduation requirements, transfer agreements, dual enrollment (high school and college), degree plans, financial aid, and data collection and analysis.
“As chair of the MACC (Maryland Association of Community Colleges) Presidents’ Council, I was part of the early discussions with the senators and delegates who pushed this law,” said HCC President Guy Altieri. “I believe there are many good aspects to the new law and I think the legislature and the Governor want early college to work well in Maryland, without costing families a lot of money.  I’m very pleased to continue to work with Dr. Wilcox, WCPS superintendent, to provide even greater opportunities for our young people to prepare for and complete college.  Since normal college financial aid programs do not pay for early college, HCC will do all it can to expand early college scholarship funding for our local students who are academically ready for college courses.”

Under this law, the Maryland Common Core state standards are being implemented to make sure that students gain the knowledge and skills they need to be college and career ready by the time they graduate from high school. The primary requirements for K-12 students include:

  • 2014-2015: Students must be enrolled in a math course each year they are in high school, beginning with incoming ninth grade students.
  • 2015-2016: Districts must assess college readiness for each student before or during eleventh grade.
  • 2016-2017: WCPS and HCC must develop and begin implementing transitional courses to be delivered in twelfth grade for students who are not college or career ready, and courses must be approved by Maryland State Department of Education.

Goals established for higher education are aimed at ensuring that 55 percent of Maryland’s adults age 25 to 64 will hold at least an associate’s degree by 2025. In order to do this, the following requirements are included in the new law:

  • Public higher education institutions must provide degree pathways for students upon enrollment at community colleges and no later than 45 credits at four-year institutions.
  • Within the degree pathways, students must take credit-bearing math and English courses within the first 24 credit hours.
  • By 2015, program requirements must be standardized to 60 credits for associate degree programs and 120 for bachelor degree programs, except for professional programs.
  • Pathway systems must include benchmarks to assess attainment of these goals.

For each high school student dually enrolled at WCPS and HCC, WCPS is required to pay the cost of tuition for the first four courses at the rate of five percent of the target per pupil foundation amount or 75 percent of the tuition. For each course in excess of four, WCPS will pay 90 percent of the tuition. WCPS will charge the student for reimbursement, up to 90 percent for the first four courses and 100 percent thereafter. In most cases, students will be responsible for all fees.
For the past several years, HCC’s ESSENCE Program has provided discounts to students taking HCC courses for high school and college credit. With the change in the law, HCC plans to change the ESSENCE Program into a scholarship program to provide tuition assistance for qualifying students to cover a portion of the difference in tuition not covered under the new law.
HCC and WCPS administrators have been meeting and are finalizing procedures for dually enrolled students.  High school students have begun to pre-register for fall classes at HCC and the billing for courses will occur later in the summer. For more information, contact Jessica Reinhard, WCPS supervisor of advanced programs, at 301-766-2992, or Robin Becker-Cornblatt, HCC director of admissions, records, and registration, at 240-500-2340 or