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bridging the gap to higher education,” said TomVander Ark,
executive director of the foundation’s education program.
“In effect, we want to bring higher education to people that
could be left behind—students whose parents may not have
graduated from high school, much less attended college.”
The funding is being funneled through intermediaries
that differ from one another as dramatically as Bard and
International High. They will all be mandated to serve at-risk
students, but the schools will be as different as their locations
and the communities they serve: Indian reservations in
Washington state; inner cities of Cleveland andWashington,
D.C.; rural areas in Utah and the south; and mainstream
college campuses across the country. The “intermediate”
with the most experience starting early colleges is the
Middle College National Consortium, an organization of
high schools that, like Middle College and International, are
located on community college campuses.
Cecelia Cunningham, the head of the consortium, was
principal of Middle College High School at LaGuardia until
Aaron Listhaus took over last fall. She expects the conversion
of some two dozen middle colleges into early colleges to
reawaken a perception of them as advanced placement
programs, a view she plans to fight. “I don’t really care how
people look at these schools,” she says. “I’m going to keep
them focused on the same type of students.”
Other intermediaries express different values. Antioch
University in Seattle, for example, plans to start at least eight
schools for Native Americans in the state of Washington.
And for Linda Campbell, an Antioch professor who
chairs First People’s Education at Antioch and heads up
the early college project there, the new schools represent
an opportunity to bring more Native
American teaching and learning into
the classroom. This curricular change,
Campbell believes, will do as much to
keep students in school as increasing
academic support programs.
Two intermediaries focus on
preparing teachers to offer a richer
learning environment for students.
SECME (formerly called the
Southeastern Consortium for Minorities
in Engineering) is starting eight schools
as partnerships between local school
districts and historical black colleges. The
WoodrowWilson National Fellowship
Foundation plans to start early colleges
on a “representative cross section” of college campuses across
the country. At both organizations, in keeping with their
traditional strengths, they will aim at deepening teachers’
ties to their disciplines. “If 16-year-olds are ready for college,
then what holds them back is the mode of instruction,” said
Robert Weisbuch, Wilson’s president. “We need exceptional
teachers to raise the norm of instruction.”
In Utah, the new schools fill a need created by the state’s
New Century scholarship program, which provides a 75
percent tuition scholarship at any state university to students
who finish high school with an associate’s degree. A student
who completes the AA degree at the age of 17 could graduate
from college at 19. Nathan Pierce, an official with the Utah
Partnership Foundation, which is starting early colleges there,
tied the state’s scholarship program and its friendly policy on
Cunningham is now executive director of the Middle College
National Consortium, which includes 21 early colleges, enrolling about
6,000 students in ten states. In the 2006-07 school year, 78 percent of
the students were from racial/ethnic minority groups; 62 percent were
eligible for federal lunch programs.
Sixty-three percent of the students attending consortium
schools were enrolled in college courses in 2006-07. Twelfth graders
accumulated an average of 31 college credits. Ninety-two percent
passed their college courses; 56 percent earned A’s and B’s.
The North Carolina New Schools Project, proposed by Governor
Mike Easley and financed largely by the Gates initiative, included 42
early college programs, enrolling more than 5,000 students in the
2007-08 school year, said
Geoff Coltrane, research and
communications director for
the project.
Thirty-seven of the
schools were on community
college campuses, four were
at four-year institutions, and
one was an online “virtual”
school for students in regions
of the state where there are no
college campuses.
Fifty-six percent of the
students were white, 30.8
percent African American, 7.7 percent Hispanic.
Early College enrollments “should mirror the area’s population,”
Coltrane said. This means there are more African Americans in urban
schools, fewer in heavily white western North Carolina. However,
Coltrane said, “we’re doing a pretty solid job of reaching first-
generation college students” in that part of the state.
Because the New Schools Project was only four years old in fall
2008, there was no information about how well students were doing,
in comparison with those attending traditional schools. But “we have
seen a significant decline” in dropout rates, Coltrane said.
Although the early college idea seems to be catching on, there still
are “significant obstacles,” said Michael Webb of Jobs for the Future.
“Combining K–12 and higher education is always a problem,” he said.
And the question of “how to pay for it, after the starting grants run
out” remains unanswered.
Many states have a single fund to finance both K–12 schools
and public colleges and universities, leading to intense competition
between the systems. And some states “are reluctant to pay for college
courses for high school students,” Webb said.
Despite these difficulties, “we’re going to see a huge increase
in states using this approach to improve education results,” Cecilia
Cunningham predicted. “As states employ this as a reform strategy, it
will be used for a wider range of kids.”
—William Trombley
Two-thirds of early
college students are
African American or
Hispanic. Many of
them had dropped out
and had given up on
education.
Finding good
students has not been
simple. Ray Peterson,
the Bard principal,
reported losing 15
percent of the first
year’s entering ninth
grade class.