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Sandy Journal

Step 2 U proven successful, space may be added for more students this year

Dec 10, 2019 02:04PM ● By Julie Slama

With the portrait collages, Alta High Step 2 students put together as a mural that represents a different part of the world and people coming together. (Photo courtesy of Thomas McNulty)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Thomas McNulty graduated from Alta High School last spring, but he didn’t walk away with just a high school diploma. 

Thanks to Step 2 the U, McNulty earned 30 university credits in addition to three high school credits. After his AP test scores were taken into consideration, he entered the University of Utah as a sophomore this fall. 

More so, the Step 2 the U program saved him approximately $15,000 in tuition and college fees, said his former principal, Brian McGill, who is the driving force behind this innovative early college pathway.

“We have had 112 students participate now in the third year of the program and have saved families more than $1.6 million collectively in university tuition savings,” McGill said. “This year, we’re looking to expand the program.”

Currently, high school students enroll in a set of general education classes along with a cohort of about 40 of their peers during the summer semester between junior and senior years. A second summer semester with the same classmates after high school graduation completes the program. They are expected to do the same work as their peers in college, McGill said.

“We’d like to offer an additional cohort, but that will depend on the number of applications we receive,” he said.

The application process, which can be found at the high school as well as online at, is now open through Feb. 1, 2020. In addition to the application and high school transcript, an academic resume, letter of recommendation and two short essays are required.

“Any students can apply; the selection committee reviews their application, grades, grade trend, leadership, participation, service learning, intellectual pursuit, creative endeavor, motivation, resiliency and if they are ready to work hard and be challenged,” McGill said.

Last year, 78 students applied for 40 openings, up from 46 applicants its first year when the program accepted 36.

 “Our success rate with Step 2 the U is really high,” McGill said. 

In fact, only six students during the three years opted out of the program once they began, he said.

“The intrinsic awards are incredible. They are only paying $120 per semester instead of thousands and are actually considered University of Utah students, where they carry an ID card and have the same access as those on campus. When they pass classes, they get guaranteed those credits and they are introduced to college-level classes which are taught by university professors, without sacrificing their high school years,” McGill said. The credits can be articulated at any state college or university, but if they do attend the U of U, they receive an additional six general education hours.

McNulty decided to apply so he could complete most of his general education requirements.

“I found it prepared me for college,” he said. “I took classes, learned to be organized and realized more was expected out of my assignments. I learned their class structure and how classes would be organized in college.”

Now, planning to explore the field of anthropology, McNulty said he realized the classes also helped him prepare for the rest of his college life as well as university student services and the campus.

“I learned time management. I now have a similar workload and can lead a balanced life,” he said. 

McNulty said it was beneficial to have a cohort of Alta peers for his first college classes.

“Some I knew, some I got to know a lot better, but we would set up group chats so we could study together,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of my friends here from Step 2 the U, so I already know people on campus. I also would say that the instructors I had provided a lot of support which provided guidance to students going for college.”

One of those instructors was Cindy Solomon-Klebba, who taught American Civilization, a U.S. history survey class focused on minority groups.

“She’d have us examine the roles of minorities — Native Americans, African Americans, women, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), Chinese immigrants helping on the railroad, Japanese internment during World War II and others. I learned specific struggles of each group at certain times and how they helped shape us; it was a look into history that usually isn’t taught,” McNulty said.

Solomon-Klebba, who has taught the course the past two summers, said she hopes students understand the impact these groups have brought to American history as well as issues surrounding them.

“If we don’t understand history around racial issues, we won’t understand racial issues,” she said. “Many students find they are being exposed to information they have never seen before or seen this way before.”

Her course, offered after high school senior year, is complemented by Rhetorical Criticism, Nature of Scientific Inquiry and Social Construction of Race and Gender, part II, all taught on the U’s Sandy campus.

“I feel Step 2 the U gives a student a feel of what it’s like as a college student, where they are able to interact with a college professor, gain a sense of how college works, what it’s like to take the number of hours, how to balance a workload and complete their generals with an enormous financial discount,” Solomon-Klebba said, adding that the class size is much smaller than one she may teach at the U, which can range up to 300 students. “It’s generally the same course, but with students knowing each other from high school, there is a level of comfort. Having this experience with Step to the U will inherently help them be more successful in college.”

McNulty agrees: “I’m really grateful I got to do Step 2 the U. I got a head start and got the majority of my generals done so I could look to go on to grad school with the money I saved. I liked all my classes and learned a lot about navigating college classes and life.”