For those getting married and starting a family in their early twenties or even late teens, attending university is often a means to an end.
Eager to get started on a family and career, and to contribute financially, many Torah Academy of Milwaukee alumni strive to finish their education “as soon as they can,” said Principal Sora Rauch, who is also director of the Jewish Studies program.
Thus, a ramped-up college credits program at TAM, a local Orthodox Jewish school for girls, is designed to help students complete their degrees faster.
“Typically in our community we marry young and I thought, why don’t I get into college as far along as I can get?” explained Estie Heifetz, class of 2003, who entered college with nearly 40 credits and now works in Cleveland as a certified public accountant.
In 1998 the school launched this College in the High School Classroom initiative, for students motivated to get an early start on their college degree.
“I had heard about this in other cities,” Rauch recalled, “about getting college credits while still in high school.” She approached Sister Ellen Lorenz, then acting dean of Milwaukee’s Mount Mary College (now University), and Mount Mary agreed to come onboard to oversee the program.
The supervising university has changed over the years. After four years at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, the program is now under the auspices of Cardinal Stritch University, offering courses for college credit in English, international relations, and calculus, as well as CLEP tests.
To qualify, students must maintain at least an overall 3.2 GPA and a grade of 80 in the course. Taken by seniors and some juniors, the classes are given in classrooms at TAM, by TAM instructors, who must hold advanced degrees in the subject. A supervisor at Stritch ensures the college curriculum is being followed.
Dr. Eric Pullin, history department chair at Carthage College in Kenosha, was a part-time instructor at TAM from 2014 to 2018, teaching U.S. history and international relations for college credit.
Doing college-level coursework “helps them understand expectations that college professors have,” said Pullin. “They’re challenged more than they would be otherwise.”
Earning college credits through the high school also saves money in the long run. At TAM, students pay $135 per college credit; for the 2018-19 school year at Stritch, undergraduate courses cost $936 per credit.
At Torah Academy of Milwaukee, which is in Glendale, the typical path for graduates is to spend a year at a seminary in Israel before returning to the United States. Upon return, they enter college with a head start, having already earned the equivalent of three or even four semesters’ worth of undergraduate credits.
For the 2018-19 school year, there are 35 students enrolled at TAM, including 12 seniors. All 12 will likely go on to spend a year in Israel, according yo Rauch.
Rauch has been with TAM since it opened with an inaugural class of five freshman students in September 1991, on a mission to provide a local girls’ high school option for observant families.
Elisheva Cohen, class of 2011, a school psychologist in Deal, New Jersey, participated in College in the High School Classroom because she “figured it was a good way to kill two birds with one stone.” With 15 credits from TAM and 30 more from her year in Israel at the Bnos Sarah Seminary, she began her undergraduate studies having already completed three semesters. Because of that, she notes, “I was able to start my master’s earlier, and now I’m 24 and I’ve already been working for two years. That’s pretty cool.”
Echoes Gitty Kramer, class of 1999, a high school Judaic studies teacher: “By the time my first baby was born, I was 22 and I had already graduated with my master’s. That gave me the ability to be able to go on and work without having to juggle even more than a Jewish working mom already has to juggle.”
Bracha Zuckerman, class of 2012, who recently earned a master’s degree in speech language pathology from Nova Southeastern University after gaining three semesters worth of college credits at TAM and in Israel, was driven to enter the workforce quickly to help support her husband, who learns full-time at Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim in Queens.
Mindful of its motivated students, the TAM administration is careful each semester to offer only a few courses for college credit, to make it clear that post-secondary studies shouldn’t take precedence over high school work and extracurricular activities.
Said Rauch: “It’s important to be a kid.”