AUGUSTA, Maine — This year, 17 high school students from Fort Kent are taking classes that allow them to earn high school and college credit simultaneously.

The LePage administration is hoping that students from around the state will be able to do the same under his plan to expand high school students’ access to college courses.

In the northern Aroostook pilot program, the students are taking classes at both Fort Kent Community High School and the University of Maine at Fort Kent. When the teens graduate from the program, they will take home high school diplomas and will have earned enough college credits to possibly graduate with an associate degree, according to Scott Voisine of UMFK.

“I think this has really brought the university and high school together, in planning for the future and looking at educational reform,” Voisine said Monday. “It really has had us both take a look at ourselves. What kinds of things need to change?”

An interim report released Monday by the Governor’s Task Force on Expanding Early Post-Secondary Access for High School Students in Maine, of which Voisine is a member, recommends changes that need to be made all over the state in order for Maine students to make faster progress toward earning college degrees. Gov. Paul LePage formed the 19-member task force last July to develop the recommendations.

Among the task force’s findings was a realization that students in Maine have more opportunities for early college participation than education experts had imagined but barriers such as transportation and funding can get in the way of making those programs available to a majority of students.

“A growing number of Maine’s jobs will require that the people who fill them have some form of postsecondary training under their belt,” LePage said in a press release issued Monday. “We don’t want Maine to miss out on these jobs of the future because our work force isn’t prepared for them.”

Among the report’s recommendations were:

• Calling for colleges to schedule courses at times that are more convenient for high school students.

• Having the Maine Department of Education compile information on early college opportunities in one easy-to-use website.

• Encouraging school districts to work with nearby colleges and regional Career and Technical Education centers to add more dual enrollment courses.

The task force will continue to meet so that members can develop policy recommendations, identify funding sources for early college programs and explore the idea of a “five-year” high school which would let students earn an associate degree within a year of earning a high school diploma.

“Everybody has been willing to say, ‘OK, what’s best for kids?’” Voisine said of the task force. “I think this is a group of people who are positively engaged to change things.”

Recent data from the Mitchell Institute show that Maine high school students who take courses for college credit are more likely to enroll in two- and four-year degree programs, according to the report.

About 80 percent of Maine students graduate from high school in four years, which is above the national average, but only 65 percent of those students enroll in some form of postsecondary education.

A recent analysis showed that almost 60 percent of Maine jobs will require postsecondary education by the year 2018.

Educators such as Voisine say that even if making changes to the way Maine high school students are educated seems expensive and difficult, it’s worthwhile.

“We keep talking about transforming education, in this state and this country,” he said. “We’re all doing more with less. We’re all getting tighter funding. But take what’s not working off the table and replace it with what is working. I think early college is that kind of out-of-the-box thinking … . It’s a good use of taxpayers’ money.”

The task force will next address how to find more funding for early college and how to eliminate barriers that are keeping high school students from accessing this type of program, according to Voisine.

“Our philosophy is to let as many kids as possible, and we can afford, take this opportunity,” he said.

The report on early college can be viewed at