Monday, November 18, 2013

Early College programs in Austin

It was good to see this story in this weekend's Austin American-Statesman about the two Early College High Schools in AISD : at LBJ and at Reagan.  Students in the program can get up to two years of college credits for no fees while still in high school.  Courses are taught by ACC instructors.  This is a great opportunity for students.  Here's the story:

Program gives Austin students jump-start on college

15-year-olds earning college credits at two high schools as Early College program ramps up.

Only a sophomore in high school, Jenifer Sanchez already will have 19 hours of college credit in December.
By the time she graduates from LBJ High School in Austin, she plans to be halfway through with her bachelor’s degree, and then the first in her family to graduate from college. She sees it as a path to a high-paying career and freedom from the money worries that have nagged her family.
The Austin school district is in its third year of offering the Early College High School program at LBJ and Reagan high schools. The program is one of several efforts that the district has put in place to boost the number of low-income and minority students who attend college, and it’s part of a regional push to get more kids into college that involves the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the University of Texas Ray Marshall Center.
Districtwide, 58 percent of Austin students enroll in college straight from high school, a rate that has been stagnant for the past six years. The numbers are lower at both LBJ and Reagan high schools: 54 percent at LBJ and 34 percent at Reagan. The rate doesn’t include students who take college courses during high school, but the program is geared to help increase the number of students who attend college directly after high school. Another aim of the program, district officials say, is to spur a cultural shift so students see themselves as college material.
Edmund Oropez, district associate superintendent of high schools, said the program gives options to low-income families and students who attend schools that have historically underperformed.
“We believe this could take us down the road to breaking some of those cycles of poverty,” he said.
In Texas, the Early College High School initiative started in 2004, and it has 21,510 students enrolled. About 72 percent of those in the program are Hispanic, 72 percent low-income and 65 percent are first-generation college attendees. There are 65 early college high schools in Texas, but most function as a program within a traditional comprehensive high school, enrolling 100 students at each grade level.
Getting credit
LBJ and Reagan both open the program to any student who passes a college readiness test. There are 881 students at LBJ and 1,173 students at Reagan who are enrolled in the program. In total, they’ve received nearly 4,100 credit hours. On average, students so far have earned 11 credit hours at LBJ and 7 credit hours at Reagan, but the average number of college credits will increase after this school year, as the students who began in the program are now juniors and are taking heavier course loads.
The program costs the district $520,000, or $253.16 per student, which includes tuition, salaries, supplies, training and summer programs. Austin Community College waives tuition for juniors and seniors.
“It is a game-changer for first-generation students and their families,” said John Fitzpatrick, executive director of Educate Texas, an Early College High School partnership organization. “Not only for them to be academically prepared but to see themselves as college material. To specifically give students the tools to earn college credit and give them a jump-start on college as early as 14 and 15.”
The program costs students nothing, bringing college to them with a mix of high school and college curricula, allowing students to earn up to 60 hours of college credit, or an associate’s degree in general studies, as they receive their high school diplomas.
High schools often offer dual credit courses to high-achieving juniors and seniors, who can earn up to 30 hours of college credit.
Helping students
Jenifer has long been a star student, and she sometimes works alongside her parents when they clean buildings — one of her father’s two jobs. Both of her parents dropped out of school in Mexico, her mother in about sixth grade, to work and contribute financially to their families.
“He wants for me what he couldn’t have,” Jenifer, 15, said. “He’s always pushing me forward and tells me to get a good-paying job.”
The Early College High School model, a public-private partnership of state agencies, businesses and nonprofit foundations, eases students into college courses, introducing them to college-level electives their first semester, such as a college and career class, before moving them into college math, science and history courses.
Jenifer was accepted into LASA, the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, but said she could get more out of the Early College High School model. While students at LASA, a specialized high school for which students must apply, can take dual credit courses during their junior and senior years, the Early College High School program gives students a chance to earn more college hours.
“LASA was going to prepare me for college, but here, I actually get to take the college classes and get credit for them,” she said.
LBJ junior Omari Henry, 16, will have earned 38 college hours by December, a huge contribution toward reducing the overall costs of college. He said his mom, who attended college, saved enough to pay his older sister’s tuition, but she won’t be able to cover all the costs for both him and his brother. Having all the basic courses paid for in high school will stretch the money further, he said. He is fixed on becoming an accountant, and he hopes to attend Stanford University or Baylor University.
LBJ Principal Sheila Henry, no relation to Omari, says ACC professors teach the courses, and some of her staff is getting certified to do so. The college professors treat the students like adults, and they don’t check in with her or the students’ parents, just as they wouldn’t if the students had already graduated high school.
She loves the program because it serves her kids, and they have proven they can rise to those expectations.
“It’s a perfect marriage,” she said.

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