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together to find an answer.
We trust each other enough
as colleagues and peers to talk
about opinions.”
Ashli Haynes, a 17-year-old
actress and violinist, left the
Professional Performing Arts
School to find more challenging
academics. “People were
distracting and rowdy in class,”
she said. “They came to that
school to be whatever fabulous
thing they were trying to be.
They didn’t care about the rest
of the work.” Haynes is taking
calculus, Spanish, law, chemistry
and jazz ensemble in addition to the required year-one
At the end of the first year of college last spring, when
Bard was at its former location in Brooklyn, students in
calculus class worked on expressing trigonometric functions
as power functions. Meanwhile, a year-one seminar was
comparing Hamlet and Don Giovanni, and an art history
class was locating the techniques and subject matter of Monet
and Renoir in the technological changes of 19th century
France. This year, the school is expanding its music program
with the help of the American Symphony Orchestra, which
is donating funds to purchase musical instruments for the
school’s chamber orchestra and jazz ensemble.
Teachers in most college courses at Bard High School
Early College hold doctoral degrees. They spend the first year
or two getting certified as high school teachers by the state.
Bard has found it necessary to supplement some teachers’
salaries to recruit them from university positions.
With all of its emphasis on academics, Bard attracts
students looking for identity and affirmation as well as a
more rigorous classroom experience. Nyla Rock, 17, who
transferred fromA. Philip Randolph High School in Harlem,
said her former school was too large and too crowded.
Almost any student transferring to International High or
Middle College could have told that part of her story.
Equally important, she said, was the fact that the learning
process was passive and anonymous. “We had 25 or 35
people in every class,” said Rock, who founded Bard’s literary
club and is planning to attend a selective women’s college
like Wellesley or Sarah Lawrence or Smith. “You couldn’t just
speak up if you had an idea. Here my smallest class had five
More early colleges
As much as the schools differ from one another, Bard,
Middle College and International High School are all part of
a common quest to reshape the transition to college, which
often seems to waste most of the senior year of high school.
The Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the early
funders of Bard High School Early College, has donated $40
million to launch 70 new early college high schools across the
Most of these schools will aim to serve students more
like those at Middle College than at Bard, but organizers of
the new schools have been regular visitors to the Bard and
LaGuardia campuses. “We see these schools as a way of
Faced with the social
reality of attending class
with people who are no
longer teenagers, students
discover a new motivation:
pride. Few want to be
identified as high school
“Early Colleges”
October 2008
National CrossTalk
first reported on “early colleges”
in its winter 2003 issue, the idea has spread widely. In the 2007-08
school year more than 40,000 students, in 200 schools, in 24 states
and the District of Columbia, were attending these schools.
These numbers were provided by Jobs for the Future, the Boston-
based organization that coordinates the Early College Initiative, which
is funded by the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation. “This has grown
into what we like to call a movement,” said Michael Webb, associate
director of Jobs for the Future.
The eventual goal of the Gates initiative is 250 schools, enrolling
100,000 students, Webb said.
Most early colleges, or early college high schools as they are
sometimes called, include students from grades nine through 12,
though some begin as early as sixth grade and others continue through
a “13th” grade. The schools are small—500 or fewer students. Most are
located on either a community college or four-year college campus,
where students take a mixture of high school and college courses. In
many cases they are able to obtain, simultaneously, both a high school
diploma and a community college associate’s degree or its equivalent.
Early Colleges are “aimed mainly at the underserved and the
underrepresented” in higher education, Webb said—low-income
students, minority
students and first-
generation college
students. Two-thirds of
early college students
are African American
or Hispanic, according
to Jobs for the Future.
Many of these students
had dropped out and
had given up on education.
Working with students who have performed poorly in traditional
schools “has been hard work—harder than we thought,” said Cecilia
Cunningham, who was principal of one of the first early colleges—
International High School, located on the LaGuardia Community
College campus in the New York City borough of Queens.
“A big ‘aha! moment’” was the discovery that these students require
more support, both academic and non-academic, Cunningham said in
an interview. “Many of these teenagers have a feeling of shame about
school,” she said. “They don’t take advantages that middle class kids
do. Instructors and people who run these programs must be aware of
The International High School and others have added daily student
sessions with their high school teachers and frequent meetings with
instructors who teach the college courses. A fifth year has been added
to the program to allow time for these extra support services.
“This has grown into
what we like to call a
—Michael Webb, associate
director of Jobs for the Future