The Biggest Branch: UConn ECE Celebrates 60 Years

60 year modified

In 1954, University Provost Al Waugh was out of control. That is, it seems, no one wanted to control him as he started the University on its academic development plan of the age. Provost Waugh was known for many celestial things; building the first planetarium in Connecticut (1954), his foundational texts on sundials, and his creation of UConn Early College Experience. 

In December of that year, Provost Waugh convened a special committee of University leadership and three high school principals to express his distress over how less-motivated students get the lion share of time from good teachers. In high school, he believed, it created a space for academically talented students to waste their time and lose their motivation. For this reason he wanted to build a relationship with local high schools to establish UConn courses at the high school to fight what would eventually be known as “senioritis”. The program was called The Cooperative Program for Superior Students. By September 1955 seven schools were able to get instructors certified and for the first time in the United States, 108 students were taking university courses on the high school campus. 

Over the years, the program developed and grew; expanding course offerings and increasing the number of high school partners. Two decades later, under the leadership of Biology Professor Albert Kind, the program had 77 high schools and 2,300 students. In an interview with The University of Connecticut Chronicle, one University administrator described the Co-op program as “the biggest branch” of the regional campuses. Not only was Co-op building its reputation in Connecticut, but also other universities contacted UConn for guidance to develop their own concurrent enrollment programs. Indeed, we occasionally tease Syracuse University of a letter in our archive where they honor our program with kid-brother-esque admiration; soliciting our advice.

After the leadership of Professor Kind in the 1980s, the Co-op program started to decline under several changes in leadership, most of whom were part-time directors. Incredibly in the mid-1990s there were even conversations of ending the program because it was too costly to manage.  

In 1999 Michael Menard, Ph.D. was the new face of the program and the engine for recovery. For the first time in its history a $5 per course fee was charged to students which led to improved professional development and site visits. This period was really the rebirth of deep faculty engagement and our collaboration in founding NACEP. 

Over the last decade, the program developed dramatically under Jill Thorne, Ph.D. first with all new (and increased) staff, a dramatic name change to UConn Early College Experience, as well as a serious engagement with NACEP. In this period expectations were elevated, professional development was expanded and improved, academic rigor more accurately recorded, and the program invested in research to understand the program as a vital tool for student success. Indeed, we are a national model for concurrent enrollment and are peers with other elite universities like Syracuse University, Indiana University, and the University of Washington. 

While the program has certainly grown and developed over the last 60 years, the core of the program has stayed the same. UConn ECE is dedicated to deep academic partnerships that provide access to and preparation for higher education at the high schools.  We value our relationship with the departments and the high schools, and look forward to continued strength as we work together for student success.  

Written by Brian Boecherer, Associate Director OECP/UConn ECE

Original Seven High School Partners: Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central High Schools (formerly Bristol High School), Manchester High School, New Britain High School, Nonnewaug High School (formerly called Woodbury High School), Norwich Free Academy, Rockville High School, Valley Regional High School


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