Maine's Department of Education has decided to end a program called AP4All, allowing high school students to access college-level classes online that they otherwise might not be able to get locally.
The department offered the program for more than a decade, but now says it has decided to instead invest more heavily in early college programs offered through the state's public university and community college systems.
The decision has raised some concerns among students and administrators around the state. Alexander Farkas, a senior at Augusta's Cony High School, says he has always loved science and sought out the most challenging classes. He even interned at a university chemistry lab last summer.
This school year, he was able to take advanced placement, or AP, courses in computer science and physics online through the AP4All program. And he believes it helped him earn admission to the University of Pennsylvania.
"I learned about the AP4All program," Farkas says, "and I was able to take these classes above and beyond what Cony offered, and I was really able to show that I'm hungry to learn."
But he says when he recently heard that the state's AP4All program was ending next month, he was disappointed for next year's seniors.
"I just want every Maine student to be able to have that," Farkas says.
"I will tell you there was a huge amount of disappointment," says Scott Voisine, dean of community education at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, which has recently administered the online AP program to about 300 students per year.
Voisine says while early college programs offered through his and other state universities are valuable, the AP courses, in subjects such as macroeconomics and music theory, have been particularly important for students applying to more selective colleges.
"AP and early college, dual enrollment, tend to serve different kinds of student needs," he says. "So that's why I don't see them as competition, I see them as different opportunities."
But on Maine Public's Maine Calling program last month, state Education Commissioner Pender Makin said that after reviewing data showing the success of students in early college programs administered by the state's university and community college systems, the department decided to invest more heavily in those, and let its contract for AP4All expire next month.
"We decided to increase our funding for the University of Maine and Maine Community College System early college options," she said, "which do include online options that are accessible for all kids."
In a follow-up email, Makin says that the department received overview reports on AP courses showing that only about half of students persisted in those classes, and even fewer took the exam or received a high enough score to earn college credit.
Meanwhile, the department says that more than 6,000 students used the state's early college programs last year and were awarded more than 23,000 college credits. Gov. Janet Mills is proposing to spend more than $3 million on early college programs at the University of Maine System in her biennial budget proposal.
Voisine is encouraged by those investments. But he's still concerned that some students might miss out on some valuable opportunities.
"While early college and dual enrollment really serve a great need, AP4All also did," he says. "And it served a different kind of student, and I don't think I want to leave those students behind. And that's what worries me about the loss of this program."
To help with the transition away from AP4All, Voisine has sent emails to school counselors around the state that include a list of online early college classes offered by state insitutions that could potentially replace online A.P. courses in the next school year.