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  Early College High Schools take center stage  
 
 

From President Obama to national news programs, one early college high school in California has been the focus of a lot of attention lately.

Village Academy in Pomona, Calif. recently gained fame after it was referenced by President Obama in his speech at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce last month, where he called it “a 21st century school where cutting edge technologies are used in the classroom, where college prep and career training are offered to all who seek it, and where the motto is ‘respect, responsibility, and results.’" Following this powerful reference, the school was featured on national news programs in late March, including 20/20, 60 Minutes, and Good Morning America.

This shining example is just one of many of California and national early college high schools attracting attention from high places, helping to raise awareness about a unique and innovative educational model.  
Nuview Bridge Early College High School in Riverside was recently awarded a 2009 High School Model of Excellence award from its county office of education, recognized for being a “replicable model” that has improved student achievement and connectedness to school. The aforementioned Village Academy has twice been honored with a silver medal ranking from U.S. News & World Report, putting it among just 604 high schools ranked as the best in the nation by the magazine. Four early college high schools—Fresno Design Science High School, Ghidotti Early College High School, Newport-Mesa Unified Early College High School, and Nuview Bridge Early College High School—were recognized as 2009 California Distinguished High Schools. And many other early college high schools boast some of the highest API scores, graduation and attendance rates in their respective districts or regions. Nationwide, attendance rates for early college students average over 90 percent, as do grade-to-grade promotion rates.

The success rates of these unique schools are particularly intriguing at a time when secondary education is the focus of a lot of scrutiny throughout the country. And given the importance of a postsecondary education for financial and personal freedom, the need for schools such as these has never been greater. Jobs for the Future, the lead coordinating agency behind the nationwide Early College High School (ECHS) Initiative, notes a number of statistics on the progression of students from high school to college to illustrate the importance of integrating secondary and postsecondary schooling, including:  

  • Young people from the middle-class and wealthy families are almost five times more likely to earn a two- or four-year college degree than those from low-income families.
  • For every 100 low-income students who start high school, only 65 will get a high school diploma and only 45 will enroll in college. Only 11 will complete a postsecondary degree.
  • High school graduates from poor families who score in the top testing quartile are no more likely than their lowest-scoring, affluent peers to attend college. The former enroll at rates of 78 percent; the latter at 77 percent.

The ECHS Initiative is based on an educational a model in which partnerships between public or charter secondary schools and local community colleges allow students to chart their higher education goals at an early age.  The initiative works with underrepresented students historically at risk for not attending college, and students can begin taking college courses as soon as they show they are ready.

“Early college high schools provide an individualized learning environment that places a strong focus on charting a course to higher education,” said Joyce Arntson, Executive Director of Intersegmental Partnerships at the Foundation for California Community Colleges. “These schools boast small enrollment numbers and extremely high graduation rates, especially when compared with traditional high schools in California. Early college high schools have enabled thousands of students throughout the nation who otherwise wouldn’t have had an opportunity to go to college to earn their associate’s degree, four-year degree, or certification for a high wage-paying job.”  
Nationwide, nearly 240 early college high schools serve more than 22,000 students. In California, the Foundation for California Community Colleges serves as an intermediary for the ECHS initiative, working with 23 community college-high school partnerships throughout the state that serve more than 5,500 youth.

One recent graduate of a California ECHS credits her experiences at the school for providing the background she needed to succeed at a four-year university. “Many of my friends that are juniors and seniors in high school now refer to me for college advice,” said Minjie Liu, a 2008 graduate of Alameda Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) who is now studying Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley. “Even though I am still learning more about college myself, I know that I have learned a lot from the teachers and students at ASTI that will continue to guide me in the future.”

Early college high schools can be organized and operated in a variety of ways, but the Foundation’s partner schools share a few key elements. For one, they target students who historically have below-average high school and college graduation rates, such as first-generation college-goers, low-income populations, English-language learners, and ethnic minorities. The schools include a personalized learning environment with an effective student support network such as counseling to maximize student success.

In addition, the schools provide the opportunity for all students to earn a high school diploma and at least two years of college credit in five years or less at no cost, helping to expedite the time for students to either go on to complete their degrees, or enter into high-wage-earning vocations.

As of the 2008-09 school year, the ECHS Initiative, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and several other major funders, had started 202 schools in 24 states. Moving forward, this effort is expected to grow exponentially. Ultimately, 13 ECHS Initiative partners like the Foundation will open about 250 small high schools serving over 100,000 students annually.

An intermediary for the initiative since 2003, the Foundation has already seen the success of many of its 23 partner schools. In spring 2008, six of the schools celebrated their first-ever graduations, with 157 total graduates.  Of these students, nine also earned their associate’s degrees at the same time as their high school diplomas, and 83 were slated to finish their associate’s degrees within the following year.  This spring, several more ECHSs will celebrate their first-ever graduations, continuing the tradition of success that has been established through this initiative.

For more information about the ECHS program and the Foundation’s partner schools, click here >. For details about the national ECHS Initiative, visit www.earlycolleges.org.

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