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Cut out a year and save pound;1,000

Accrington and Rossendale College, Lancashire, has a dozen students taking the American associate degree alongside their A-levels. It can be tough going - an extra five hours a week study. But says Mel Chadwick, team leader for arts and humanities, the benefits are substantial.

The qualification allows students to sample a range of subjects and a wider curriculum - a taste of what's to come with Curriculum 2000, she says.

It also aims to broaden their experience and boost their confidence. "These students have really melded together as a band," she said. "They have organised a magazine, and are raising funds to go to Chicago .

"What we're hoping to do is develop them as communicators: they accompany us to schools to talk about what the college offers, and have been with us at careers exhibitions.

"We're looking to develop what they do very well in America, which is teaching assertiveness, teaching students to be confident.

"A 10-minute presentation when you're 16 can be so nerve-wracking. They're getting used to using things like 'Powerpoint' and overhead projectors - good communication skills for seminar presentations in higher education."

Accrington's principal, Michael Austin, says the associate version would allow students to complete a full degree at an American university, or potentially to "fast track" into the second year of a British degree course, saving pound;1,000 in tuition fees.

"I like the idea of something like a college degree - hairdressing, welding or whatever - which demonstrates a student has reached acomparable standard.

"What we ought to be able to do is to issue the qualification to students, confident that the next user, whether it be employer or university, understands what it is and recognises the significance of it.

"It also gives the students a boost because they are not seen to be different kinds of student."

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