Building on its Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG), Mary Baldwin University is honing its efforts to offer higher education alternatives to bright and accomplished teens.

The new Early College Academy (ECA) at Mary Baldwin offers accelerated higher education opportunities for 16- and 17-year-old girls who earn their high school diplomas earlier than traditional students. It differs from PEG, which allows girls as young as 13 to bypass most or all of high school.

Mary Baldwin’s Admissions and Early College staff hit the ground running this fall, recruiting students for fall 2011 and traveling to targeted conferences and conventions to promote both PEG and ECA to gifted educators, parents of gifted students, and homeschool families as well as school counselors, school administrators, and independent college counselors.

Promising enrollment data also are fueling the outreach. The idea to make a concerted effort to reach potential ECA students began with the issuing of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “College of 2020” report in 2009, which identified students age 14 to17 as an area of enrollment growth for post-secondary institutions.

“Mary Baldwin has traditionally welcomed early entrants [16 or 17 years old] who have finished high school early through accelerating or via homeschooling,” said Stephanie Ferguson, executive director of the Early College program. “ECA will be a focused effort to market to that segment of the population.”

The Early College structure provides more day-to-day support for students as they transition to college life a little ahead of the curve.

“In the past, early admissions students would matriculate into the RCW [residential College for Women] without any additional support from the campus infrastructure,” Ferguson said. “As such, these underage students would sometimes not fare as well as other groups of students on campus. ECA provides a living-learning community for these students who will be able to participate in the best of what both PEG and the RCW campus has to offer.”

The new program will come at a minimal cost to the college. Efforts that were previously directed toward early admissions candidates will be redirected toward ECA and as the inaugural class of the ECA is formed, student life staffing efforts will be based upon the number of the initial ECA class.

Recruiting younger students comes naturally for PEG staff and Admissions counselors at Mary Baldwin, Ferguson said.

“We are looking for students who would also be a fit for the Global Honors Scholars Gateway — those with similar grade point averages and college entrance test scores at 16 to17 years of age,” she said. “Ideally, ECA students would be highly motivated and ready for the challenges that residential college life may pose.”