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February 09, 2012 10:00 AM Too Early College?

By Daniel Luzer

For the last 20 years education reformers have been excited about early college, a program that encourages high school students to take classes at local colleges. The idea is to help students save money when they eventually go to college (because they’ve already earned credits) and motivate them by providing them with challenging courses.

It turns out that doesn’t always work so well. According to an article by Neal Morton in (Texas’s) The Monitor:

Hoping to close a higher education gap among poor and minority populations, efforts to help high school students earn college credit early have rapidly spread across the Rio Grande Valley.
But once the students graduate and officially enter college, some professors have found their performances disappointing, prompting the teachers to doubt the wisdom of public school programs that they feel hinder college readiness.
“They are intentionally setting these kids up for failure,” said Sam Freeman, a University of Texas-Pan American professor and academic advisor. “(Early college) students simply do not perform well.

Freeman cautions that, at this point, his impressions are mostly anecdotal. Early college high school students just don’t seem to do a good job in college course. Perhaps the college courses they’re taking are watered down and fail to prepare them for real college.

Or maybe not. It’s actually rather difficult to tell at this point. But with no evidence of success or failure, Freeman wonders why $20 million in state funds is going to create and support early college.

In fact there is extensive about the success of early college. The trouble is that much of the research has to do only with credits earned and high school graduation rates. But that’s not really the point, is it? No one seems to know what happens to the early college students once they get to actual college. Do the early credits they’re earned make them more likely to graduate than their high peers who take normal high school classes. How to they fare compared to other college students, those who didn’t take part in an early college program.

Freeman might be wrong about early college. But at this point, despite spending $20 million of Texas taxpayers’ money, it’s a mystery.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Jobs for the Future on February 09, 2012 1:41 PM:

    In Sunday’s (Feb. 5) article EARLY COLLEGE, EARLY FAILURE? By Neal Morton, Sam Freeman argues that graduates of early college high schools do not develop the skills they need to succeed and “fall flat on their face” when they get to college.

    The assertions about the lack of college readiness of early college graduates in this article seem to hang on a slender reed of anecdotal evidence. These statements contradict a substantial body of research, based on large data sets, from early college schools and dual enrollment programs in Texas and nationally.

    College coursework in the high school has a powerful positive impact on college enrollment and achievement. Of the 900 Texas early college graduates in 2010, 308 earned an associate’s degree along with their high school diploma, having completed college degree requirements. Their college coursework is taught by certified instructors and meets the local college’s standards of quality and rigor. In fact, in 14 of the 18 early college schools for which college data is available, students were primarily integrated into college classes alongside traditional students.

    Despite the impressive results by Texas early colleges presented in the article, Freeman still criticizes local officials and makes the offensive statement that poor, minority students have a “tremendous, developmental deficit” that “leaves them paying for it with failure in the end.”

    Early colleges target low-income students, first-generation college-goers, and others underrepresented in higher education. Through early college, they gain exposure to the rigor and expectations of college, and begin to see themselves as college students. These investments are paying off – 86 percent of early college graduates enroll immediately in higher education, compared to 66 percent of high school graduates nationwide.

    In our work with 270 early college schools across the country, we see early college bridging the divide between high school and college so students gain a true understanding of academic rigor and success.

  • Crissa on February 09, 2012 4:16 PM:

    My spouse took early college courses in Oklahoma when they were available. She didn't earn a degree due to other circumstances, but those courses did lead her to her 100K job as an engineer today.

    Also anecdotal.

    Money spent on college isn't wasted.