Brenau Academy Shifts Focus to ‘Early College’

Aug 25, 2011
Rudi Kiefer

Brenau University‘s Brenau Academy, the oldest girl’s preparatory school in Georgia, will this year begin a transformation to an institution that provides extraordinary students with an “early college” experience in which they could accumulate up to two years’ worth of college credits by time they receive their high school diplomas.

Starting in the 2011-12 academic year, which begins in August, Brenau Academy students will no longer take traditional high school-level courses on the Brenau campus but will instead have access to the full range of courses offered to students at the 133-year-old Brenau Women’s College, which is an undergraduate division of the university.

“These are not advanced placement courses or other high school courses,” said Jim Southerland, the Brenau University provost and vice president for academic affairs. “These are actual college courses that could transfer easily to Brenau or any other institution of higher learning. Those who elect to do so and complete the requisite courses could even receive a two-year Associate of Arts degree from the university at the completion of the Brenau Academy program.”

The new focus stems from a recommendation following several months of study by a blue-ribbon committee of top-level Brenau academic and administration officials. The university Board of Trustees approved the recommendation at the end of 2010.

“It has been clear for some time that the traditional single-gender residential prep school model is no longer economically viable for Brenau Academy,” said Brenau University President Ed. L. Schrader. “However, we believe that this transition to the ‘early college’ approach not only will be more realistic financially, but also will be more in line with the university’s strategic plan and mission. One of the Brenau Academy founding principles was that it provides educational opportunities that young women cannot get elsewhere, and this approach holds true to that principle.”

Founded in 1928 as an adjunct and possible student “feeder school” to the higher education institution, Brenau Academy has been in continuous operation since, producing such notable alumnae as TV star Amanda Blake, wrapping paper magnate Sally Foster, Hollywood costume designer Janie Bryant, and Gwinnett County Commission Chair Shirley Lasseter.

However, following a national trend, enrollments at the female-only school have declined precipitously in recent years to fewer than 40 students – several of whom receive significant institutional financial assistance. According to Brenau University Executive Vice President and CFO Wayne Dempsey, it would take more than 80 students to sustain full Academy programs.

Continuing in the current mode, Schrader said, not only puts a financial burden on the institution, but also is unfair to students. “With a small number of students, you cannot have a broad range of high school-level academic offerings, you can’t field athletic teams, and you can’t have clubs and other programs traditionally associated with the high school experience.”

On the other hand, Brenau Academy students who have participated in the “early college” program that has been available to Academy students for two years on a formal basis, an informally for several years, have done well with college-level academics. In fact, according to top academic officers at the university, one 17-year-old 2010 graduate not only surpassed junior- and senior-level students in biology, but also won a top English award in last year’s spring awards convocation for Women’s College students.

The trustees’ action directed the university administration to spend the next year fine-tuning the early college concept at Brenau Academy and resolving related issues such as financial aid availability and eligibility, student activities and course requirements.

“Although the old model for Brenau Academy served its purpose very well,” Schrader said, “we are seeking a new way to meet the needs of exceptional students who are of traditional high school age and who also possess extraordinary abilities to undertake college-level academics.”

Originally published on 1/04/11