PORTLAND — Some students at Catherine McAuley High School will now be able to get a head start on their college educations.

McAuley, which will sever its religious affiliation this summer, has signed a partnership with the University of New England to allow qualified students to earn up to 30 college transfer credits while still in high school.

The arrangement would allow a graduating high school senior to enter college as a sophomore.

The agreement, signed at McAuley Jan. 15 by UNE President Danielle Ripich and McAuley Head of School Kathryn Barr, will let students who successfully go through McAuley’s advanced placement program receive credits to UNE’s College of Arts and Sciences, “provided that they demonstrate mastery of advanced placement work,” according to a news release.

Barr said conversations about the partnership began about a year ago. She said it was a “natural partnership,” since the schools are both on Stevens Avenue. 

“This is going to propel (students) forward,” Barr said.

Ripich said the agreement makes sense for both schools, and it would set the framework for new opportunities. She said the two schools have talked about sharing resources in the past.

“It was an idea whose time had come,” Ripich said.

Ripich said the agreement will allow students a chance to save up to 25 percent on the cost of college tuition, as students could enter college with sophomore standing. Ripich acknowledged it may not be “an easy path,” but added she thought the McAuley students were capable.

“I can’t think of a more ideal place to do this,” Ripich said.

She said the agreement is a way to “reward the excellence of the quality of work” done by students at McAuley.

Successful candidates will also be given priority consideration for admission and merit scholarships at UNE, the news release said. Ripich said the agreement gives qualified students the chance to major in any program at the College of Arts and Sciences, and students can earn credits at any time during their high school careers.

“We’re all trying to cut costs for higher education,” Ripich said.

UNE, the state’s largest private university, has similar agreements with Thornton Academy and Biddeford High School. McAuley, the state’s only single-gender college preparatory school, also has a partnership with Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.

McAuley was founded by the Rhode Island-based Sisters of Mercy Northeast Community, a religious institute of Catholic women. McAuley will be officially independent from the Sisters of Mercy on July 1.

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