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Celebrating Early College High School Week and life-long success

Mar 24, 2014 | posted by Chris Coxon, Chief Program Officer, Educate Texas

Educate Texas is proud to celebrate Early College High School Week. While education reformers across the nation have tried to develop programs and curriculum that will lead to a college-ready student, in Texas, thousands of low-income, minority, and first-generation high school students are participating in schools that are specifically designed to not simply prepare them for college, but to actually have them enroll and take up to 60 college credit hours and/or earn an Associate’s degree while still in high school. We applaud all of those school districts and their higher education partners who have put college readiness at the top of their institutional goals and created the systems and supports that are demonstrating truly impressive results.

Through the leadership of the Texas Education Agency, and in collaboration with Educate Texas and the Institute for Public School Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin, there are now more than 100 designated early colleges stretching across more than 34 counties. From the tip of South Texas to the Panhandle, and from El Paso to East Texas, whether in the many urban centers of the state or across the boundless rural communities, early college high schools and their results are beginning to transform the goals of secondary education in Texas. 

Around 75% of the students who attend these schools are considered racially under-represented in higher education, mainly Latino and African American students and are also designated as economically-disadvantaged. Approximately 65% of these students are the first in their families to ever attend any schooling past high school.  Thanks to the early college design, these students, who too often either don’t make it to college or if they do, end up dropping out, are developing the skills, knowledge, and most importantly the experience that will lead to completing one or two years of college while still in high school, with no cost to their families. Or should they choose not to go to college, they have the advanced skillset needed to succeed in a career of their choice. 

To date, early college high school students have a 97% graduation rate and are completing advanced and dual credit courses at almost three times a higher rate than the rest of the state. The success experienced through these deliberately designed schools is leading over 70% of the students to enroll in college after their graduation, 15 percentage points higher than the state average. Once enrolled in college, early college students are persisting from their first year to their second year at about 20 percentage points higher than the state average. All of this leads to more young men and women attaining some form of college credential, a milestone that research shows will increase their lifetime earnings, better equipping them to support their families, communities, and our state as productive citizens ready and able to participate in the democratic process.

While these numbers demonstrate true success, much work remains to ensure that many more students across the state of Texas benefit from this and other successful models. Over the last few years, Educate Texas has partnered with key school districts and experienced higher education partners to scale these models across districts and regions.  Pharr, San Juan, Alamo (PSJA) ISD, Clint ISD, and Brownsville ISD are deliberately and systematically scaling the early college model across their districts.

By providing teachers with professional development on a set of instructional strategies that have been proven to help students access college level course work and implementing support structures that reinforce rigorous instruction within a college-going culture, many more students are getting the opportunity to successfully take and pass dual credit courses. While the design of an early college is intended to ensure that participating students can earn 60 college credit hours, research on college access, persistence, and success demonstrates that students who accumulate as little as 15 college credit hours, while still in high school, double their chances of successfully completing some postsecondary credential.

Others across the state are excited about the potential scaling of these models and are taking teams of administrators, teachers, and board members to visit these and other successful early college models school in order to investigate how to help students in their district have access to these opportunities.

Community college districts and regional four-year higher education institutions are also looking to expand early colleges regionally. A study conducted at the University of Texas-Pan American highlighted the many positive attributes of students that had participated in an early college or in dual credit courses.  According to the report, these students had a higher grade point average than traditional freshman students, knew how to access support structures within the higher education setting, and were more likely to complete a degree on time. All of these outcomes will help our community colleges and universities drive the economic prosperity and ingenuity of our state.

While the success of an early college comes down to the partnership that is created between the school district and a higher education partner, the expansion of this work in Texas could not have happened without the support, know how, and policy environment that has been created by a number of public and private partners. Multiple national and state foundations such as the Greater Texas Foundation, The Meadows Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Communities Foundation of Texas have provided the private capital to pilot early college high schools and now scale them.

Jobs for the Future, a national intermediary and research entity, has worked closely with the Texas Education Agency and Educate Texas to take an emerging model and fully develop it within the state.  Additionally, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has helped to track the data of early college high school students and has developed a strong inter-agency partnership with the Texas Education Agency to review existing and new applicants for early college high school designation on an annual basis.

The oversight and expansion of early college initiative across the state is due large part to the leadership and staff of the Texas Education Agency.  Through their support and willingness to develop public-private partnerships in order to find innovative solutions for the children of Texas, the state education agency can be proud of developing a national model that will be highlighted this fall at the second National Early College High School Conference to be hosted in Dallas.

In celebration of Early College High School Week, we are honored to recognize all of those individuals who have helped to create schools that are making a difference for some of the most talented and hopeful students in our state. We recognize all those teachers, who through their determination, skill, and expectations for their students are providing the knowledge and tools for them to successfully master college-level work while still in high school. We recognize all those students who have accepted the challenge to make the most of their high school years by demonstrating their college-readiness by taking and passing college courses. Lastly, we would like to recognize all those family members who told themselves that they wanted something more for their children. 

A college degree can be one of the best ways to break the bonds of intergenerational poverty and to maximize our states greatest resource; its youth. Let’s continue to work together and celebrate the successes of our students. Together we can “Educate Texas”.

 

To learn more about Educate Texas' early college network, click here.  And to better understand how our early college students are outperforming their peers, check out this slide deck.

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