Imagine graduating from high school and already having an associate degree.
That’s what more and more students are accomplishing when they leave early college high schools. These schools form partnerships with local community colleges and allow students to take college-level classes to get a head start on their careers.
Take Mission Early College High School, located on El Paso Community College’s Mission del Paso campus in far western Texas. This spring, more than 109 of the 115 seniors received two-year associate degrees along with their high school diplomas. (The other six are just a class or two away.) And all the graduates plan to go on to four-year universities in the fall.
“This all but guarantees these graduates will finish college and get into a profession that otherwise would not be within their reach,” Principal Armando Aguirre said of the first graduating class from the school, which opened in 2006. The philosophy is college first, high school second, and the expectations are high. There is support and tutoring to help students keep up with the workload.
About 95 percent of the students at Mission High are Hispanic; 80 percent are from low-income families; and 85 percent are the first generation of their family to attend college. For these students, saving two years of tuition by taking classes while in high school is significant. Some have even graduated a year early and earned three years of credit at no cost.
In 2002, the first early college high schools opened. Now, 201 are operating in 24 states, according to the Student Information System developed by Jobs for the Future. JFF is the national coordinator of the Early College High School Initiative. About 70 percent of those enrolled are students of color, and 59 percent were eligible for free or reduced lunch.
While the concept is relatively small and new, the results are encouraging. The graduation rate for early college schools in 2008 was about 92 percent, well above the national average of 69 percent. Upon graduation, 78 percent of the students had earned some college credit, and 86 percent went to college immediately after high school, as opposed to 66 percent nationally.
In states where the Early College High School Initiative has excelled, such as Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and California, education policies support the model, encouraging political leadership at the state level and public-private partnerships, says Joel Vargas, program director at Jobs for the Future.
“We are at the point where people have and will see very promising data from early college high schools,” says Vargas. “It’s the Cadillac model for giving students support to get college ready by completing college courses early. We may see more being started, especially if language is adopted in federal policies to support this approach.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.