Bridging a gap

A model for improving higher education opportunities

By Mark Storz, Ph.D., associate dean of graduate studies in the College of Arts & Sciences and Lauren Bowen, Ph.D., associate academic vice president for student learning initiatives and diversity

In September of 2012, John Carroll embarked on an exciting venture with one of the local school districts, Cleveland Heights – University Heights City Schools (CHUH). The two institutions partnered to develop the 11th Early College Program in Ohio. The University has had a long history of working with the district to prepare and professionally develop teachers.

Early College is an approach to secondary education reform based on the principle that academic rigor, combined with the opportunity to save time and money, is a powerful motivator for students to work hard and meet serious intellectual challenges. Early College programs allow students to earn as many as two years of college credit while simultaneously completing their high school degree. There are more than 240 early college programs in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

The CH-UH R.E.A.L. (relevant experiential active learning) Early College program welcomed its first freshman class of 46 students in August 2012. Earlier that month, a Bridge Program was held for a week on the JCU campus. Students participated in curricular workshops, “College 101” seminars, and community building activities. The program provided the opportunity for the students to:

• begin to develop an identity;
• assist teachers in pre-assessing their academic standing; and
• introduce them to John Carroll.

During the first two years of high school, students will experience an accelerated program focused on the core academic subjects and an emphasis on Streaks of Genius, which are those skills and dispositions necessary for success in college. There is the potential for students to complete all of their core requirements and qualify to take courses on the JCU campus by the beginning of their junior year if they pass several benchmarks.

Early College students first must demonstrate mastery in all of their core subjects. Mastery is defined as receiving the equivalent of an ‘A’. The mastery model provides an individualized pace to the curriculum. As a student masters one course – for example, Algebra I – they move on to the next one, Algebra II. Some students might move through the curriculum more quickly, and, therefore, qualify for coursework on campus at different times.

In addition to mastery, students are required to pass the Ohio Graduation Test in each of the core subjects. Also, a transition experience, in which students take a high school course taught by high school faculty, and complementary college course taught by university faculty, will be developed. This collaborative experience will be set at an off-campus location that includes an internship or research experience. During the third and fourth years of high school, early college students take their elective classes at the high school while taking courses at JCU or completing their core requirements.

National data from early college high schools demonstrate positive outcomes, according to the Early College Initiative. For example, schools are reaching their target populations. Throughout the country, about 75 percent of students served by early college high schools are students of color, and almost 60 percent are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch. The majority of students who will be attending early college high schools are first-generation college students.

The demographics of the first R.E.A.L. Early College class reflect national statistics – 95 percent are students of color and 54 percent are from low-income families. In 2010, 5,414 students graduated from early college high schools throughout the country. Their performance in most areas exceeded that of students attending more traditional high schools with similar demographics. For example, preliminary data show:

• More than 250 early college high school graduates earned merit-based college scholarships. Four earned the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship, awarded to 1,000 high-achieving, low-income students annually.

• 77 percent of graduates went on to postsecondary education: four-year colleges (52 percent), two-year colleges (23 percent), and technical programs (2 percent).

• Of 109 schools reporting data about graduates, more than half (56 percent) said students had earned two or more years of college credit.

• 80 percent (54 out of 68) of early college schools had a graduation rate equal to or higher than their school district.

• The average graduation rate for early colleges was 84 percent, compared to 76 percent for their school district.

“This partnership with JCU will expose Early College students to a real college setting and college-level academics,” says Mark Aden, R.E.A.L. Early College principal. “It will build their confidence and make higher education affordable, a reality some didn’t think was possible. Successful participation in the early college high school experience will significantly increase students’ opportunities to complete their bachelor degree program after their completion of high school.”

While the benefits to high school students and their families might be readily apparent, the Early College program is also expected to strengthen and benefit John Carroll University in tangible and meaningful ways. The presence of college-ready high school students who have mastered their high school curriculum might well set a tone in classrooms that inspires traditional-age college students to excel. More significantly, the emphasis on mastery and the kind of preparation R.E.A.L. Early College students receive can inform the ways in which college classes are taught and challenge us to reexamine what we mean by student achievement and academic success.

College faculty will have the opportunity to work collaboratively with high school teachers to create learning centers that will provide integrated curricular opportunities for Early College students before arriving on the John Carroll campus. These faculty development opportunities should be mutually beneficial. Having academically sophisticated and socially poised high school students on our campus should provide a breadth of perspective that energizes the campus for faculty and students. This project also promotes some of the University’s key strategic goals such as enhancing the diversity and inclusion of John Carroll. Additionally, the University will use its strengths and expertise to create mutually supportive relationships in the community. JCU

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