John Merrow produced a must watch (or read) PBS segment one  and segment two on early college high schools in south Texas.

With eight partners and several funders, Jobs for the Future launched the Early College High School Initiative in 2002.  The story is on EarlyColleges.org, “Early college high schools blend high school and college in a rigorous yet supportive program, compressing the time it takes to complete a high school diploma and the first two years of college.”

There are about 250 early college high schools nationwide serving 75,000 students. “The schools are designed so that low-income youth, first-generation college goers, English language learners, students of color, and other young people underrepresented in higher education can simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree—tuition free.”

Merrow interviewed Daniel King, superintendent of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District.  King said, “Many young people don’t see the connection between high school and the rest of their life. And so there’s a lot of time in high school that they spend maybe killing time. Well, high school not only needs to be more challenging; it needs to be more real.”

“King believes that if you give students real challenges and opportunities, they will meet them. Free college and industry certification classes are the incentives that he believes will not only entice students to work hard in high school, but also get them on the path to college,” Merrow added.

The south Texas experience isn’t unique.  There have been encouraging results from Early College initiative.

Jobs for the Future worked with Superintendent King in in prior assignment in Hidalgo.  This is the first success for JFF with early college as a district wide strategy.  Check out the full JFF tool kit.

If these are such a good idea, Why Didn’t Early College Catch Fire? Last year I suggested the reasons included “It’s really hard and time consuming to work across the post secondary boundary.   Colleges don’t like giving up lower division tuition; high schools don’t like sharing ADA revenue with colleges.  And almost every early college is a custom bargain; concurrent enrollment policies are different in every state.”

I suspect the inspiration for this initiative was not only the success of other early college schools but the growth of IDEA Public Schools, a high performing border network that features the IB curriculum.  Whatever the source, let’s hope there are more high schools that offer college credit opportunities.  The explosion of online and blended learning makes it so easy and affordable to offer high level courses there is no excuse for every high school in America to offer a well supported catalog of AP and college credit courses.

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