DECEMBER 2012 | VOL. 13 NO. 4  
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  Bridging the Gap with Early College: A “R.E.A.L.” Model for Improving Higher Education Opportunities

In September of 2012, John Carroll University (JCU) embarked on an exciting new venture with one of our local school districts, Cleveland Heights – University Heights City Schools (CHUH). Our two institutions partnered to develop the eleventh Early College Program in the State of Ohio. We have had a long history of working with the district in the preparation and professional development of 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 up to two years of college credit while simultaneously completing their high school degree. There are over 240 early college programs in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

The CH-UH R.E.A.L. Early College, as it is known, welcomed our first freshman class of 46 students in August. (R.E.A.L. stands for Relevant Experiential Active Learning.) 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. This program provided the opportunity for the students to begin to develop an identity, to assist teachers in their pre-assessment of students’ academic standing, and to 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 what we are calling the ‘Streaks of Genius’ – those skills and dispositions necessary for success in college. There is the potential for the 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 a number of benchmarks.

Early College students must first demonstrate mastery in all of their core subjects. Mastery is defined as receiving the equivalent of a grade of ‘A’. This 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 may move through the curriculum at a faster pace and therefore qualify for coursework on our campus at different times.

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

According to the Early College Initiative, national data from early college high schools demonstrate positive outcomes. For example, the schools are reaching their target populations. Across the country, approximately 75% of students served by early college high schools are students of color, and almost 60% are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch. The majority of students attending early college high schools will be first generation college students. The demographics of the first R.E.A.L. Early College class reflect the national statistics with 95% students of color and 54% economically disadvantaged.

In 2010, 5,414 students graduated from early college high schools around the country. Their performance in most areas exceeds that of students attending more traditional high schools with similar demographics. For example, preliminary data show that:

  • 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 each year.
  • 77% of graduates went on to some form of postsecondary education: enrolled in four-year colleges (52%), two-year colleges (23%), and technical programs (2%).
  • Of 109 schools reporting data on graduates, more than half (56%) said that students had earned two or more years of college credit.
  • 80% of early college schools had a graduation rate equal to or higher than their school district (54 out of 68).
  • The average graduation rate for early colleges was 84%, compared to 76% for their school district.

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

While the benefits to high school students and their families may 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 may 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 can challenge us to reexamine what we mean by student achievement and academic success.

College faculty will also have the opportunity to work collaboratively with high school teachers in creating learning centers that will provide integrated curricular opportunities for Early College students prior to 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 alike. This project also promotes some of the University’s key strategic goals; in particular, Early College will support our efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion of the JCU community. Additionally, the University will use its strengths and expertise to create mutually supportive relationships in our community.


Authors:

Mark Storz, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Graduate Studies, College of Arts & Sciences, John Carroll University
Lauren Bowen, Ph.D., Associate Academic Vice President for Student Learning Initiatives and Diversity, John Carroll University