Make Early College Available to All Students

National Journal takes up the subject of Early College High Schools today.  Here’s my entry:
Call it coincidence, but in one week in 2002 I had a bus ride with Cece Cunningham, a phone call from Bard President Leon Botstein and a discussion with Utah Gov. Leavitt that all pointed to the opportunity for an Early College High School Initiative.  Hilary Pennington, then with JFF, quickly signed on to run the efforts.  We were able to recruit eight high capacity groups in a couple weeks including Portland Community College, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, and NCLR.  Ford Foundation, an early supporter of the Middle College Consortium, signed on a co-sponsor.
The premise was that a coherent, accelerated, well-supported degree pathway would help more low income students finish a college degree.   With nearly 250 versions of ECHS with many different variations, we can conclude that the idea of accelerated degree pathways has merit but blending K-12 and higher education is difficult in most state policy environments.
PCC demonstrated that for struggling students that found high school pointless and college an impossible dream, an ECHS provided the motivation to finish high school and earn an AA degree.
To make ECHS opportunities more broadly available, states need transparent placement exams that signal readiness to earn college credit, weighted funding that follows the student, and credit articulation agreements between high schools, community colleges, and 4 year universities.  With online learning, there’s no reason to build ECHS pathways for all students.
For most students, the senior year is an academic waste of time.  There’s no reason that most students can’t earn finish high school requirements in three years and begin earning college credit.  Every student should graduate from high school having experienced college success.  A 4 or 5 year pathway to an associate degree and/or industry certificate is a great option that should be available to all students.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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