How to Design Early College Programs That Support Underrepresented Student Success

High school transformation models, corporate partnerships, and project-based learning are just a few of the methods being used to fix a broken K-12 system and bolster U.S. post-secondary graduation rates. . They met with mixed success. So when a program pushes college graduation rates from the 20th to the 70th percentile in 10 years, it’s time to pay attention.

What it is and what it isn’t

In the most simplistic description, the Early College Alliance (ECA) at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) allows a student to earn up to 60 college credits while still enrolled in high school, at no cost to their family. . More broadly, the program teaches skills and habits transferable to many life experiences.

The program is 15 years old, and data show that it’s do not a one-shot wonder. In progress a program with proven support system and adopt an educational structure and pedagogy where learning is the cconstant and time is the variable – in contrast to the traditional K-12 model – students can master the academic skills and behaviors needed to complete University.

The program is built around five areas of focus that have been proven effective for student success:

  • give access to the college to all students who wish to live this experience
  • teach soft skills
  • provide support to help students make the transition from high school to college
  • strong relationships between students and staff
  • high expectations.

This is do not an instructive miracle solution; it is a sustainable and economically viable model that embraces major systemic and pedagogical changes. Its graduates graduate from college at a 300% higher rate than other Michigan students, and for black students, that number is 700% higher.

Data show that 76% of black students graduating from the early college program earned a four-year degree within six years of graduation, compared to 11% of black students statewide.

So how does the program have such a dramatic impact on graduate outcomes?

Intentional planning with mutual benefits

The first step is to identify the barriers to be removed and the skills to be developed so that students can access and complete their post-secondary education, including:

  • web technology and connectivity
  • direct instruction
  • monitoring and evaluation of normative college academic behaviors that are strongly correlated with postsecondary success
  • all manuals and associated fees
  • design the admission lottery system to give preference to students of low socioeconomic status.

Laying the groundwork for an early college program

Extensive research is needed when developing an early college program to ensure it meets local needs. Our planners spent several years researching and consulting with state government officials, the university, local school district and school board leaders, parents, and community leaders. An alliance with a university that has established an early college program can help design a program while building coalitions with local districts and key stakeholders such as high schools.

Allow 18-24 months to complete the program. Here are some steps to get started:

  • Meet with local K-12 superintendents and city leaders to explore the idea
  • Identify a team to research and set goals and time limit
  • Find one or more local university partners
  • Organize an implementation team that may include consultants and representatives from K-12 and universities
  • Build a communication network to market the program, animate public forums, develop a social media identity and monitor the marketing process
  • Submit documents to national and local municipalities to establish the program.

A day in the life of an ECA student

Introduce students to the college surroundings as early as possible so they become familiar with campus standards and processes.

The letter announcing that a high school student has been selected for the program signifies that a high college life has begun. All of our students begin their journey by taking high school courses on campus at Eastern Michigan University. This simple act of moving students around campus introduces young learners to social customs and patterns of college life.

By creating an educational program that prepares the student for the path, rather than the path for the student, we help our students prepare for college, armed with the knowledge that success is found in the effective management of their learning. .

Rather than focusing on academic content as the center of instruction, students enrolled in ECA courses learn soft skills in every class, every day, for the first five weeks of each 15-week semester. Students learn time management strategies, note-taking techniques, interpersonal communication and conflict management skills, organizational skills, test preparation and taking skills, study skills, and most importantly , social autonomy.

As students enter weeks 6-10, their soft skills are monitored, assessed, and coached. During weeks 11-15, ECA faculty take a hands-off approach to allow students to implement and essentially “field test” their own implementation of the soft skills. Only after students have demonstrated proficiency in implementing soft skills, in each course, are they eligible to move on to college-level courses. As ECA@EMU states, “The first five weeks of each semester are in high school, the second five are in college, and the last five weeks in college.”

ECA graduate Jordan Wright said the program helped her navigate her studies. “ECA made me take responsibility for my actions and taught me skills such as time management and organization. The skills I learned at ECA made it easier for me to go to university and that’s why I had the discipline to enter the nursing program.

Actions rather than words

Unfortunately, the US K-12 system is burdened with a perverse incentive – to graduate (not necessarily educate) all students on time in 12 years. This approach explains why college completion rates are so low, and more than 50% of Michigan high school students who attend post-secondary institutions are put in development courses. EducaTeachers don’t let students down, but rather a failing system is to blame.

Other than tying K-12 funding to post-secondary completion rates, which raises many equity concerns, there are no other incentives large enough to influence the current system. kindergarten to grade 12 sorting and selection. In the end, we all lose by perpetuating a time-based system.

Instead of lamenting what is not possible, the K-12 system must rethink itself into a non-time-based model. In this model, the result remains the same for each student and college; the only thing that changes is the journey of each student. Human beings do not grow and develop in a linear fashion, and education systems that are not designed to accommodate this basic reality are doomed to failure.

Building a college curriculum isn’t just about talking, writing, and thinking about it. Action, passion, and even anger at the continued failure of disengaged students is needed. Visionary leadership, tenacity and an unwavering determination to never give up – because too much is at stake – are essential to shifting mindsets and positively changing the educational landscape.

David Dugger is executive director of the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium and president of Middle College Consultants at Eastern Michigan University.

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Abdul J. Gaspar