Early college high schools growing

Marice Richter

Fort Worth Business Press

Back-to-school for an increasing number of local teens won’t be the typical high school experience of worksheets and essays offset by sports, marching band and Friday Night Lights. Instead, it will involve the rigors of college classes and a pathway to a successful future in a professional career. The proliferation of early college high schools across Tarrant County is offering more high school students than ever the opportunity to jumpstart a college education while working on a high school diploma. Through partnerships between Tarrant County College and local school districts, including Fort Worth and Arlington, students enrolled in these early college high schools, also known as collegiate high schools, have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree with 60 hours of credit from TCC at the same time as they earn a high school diploma.

Three new collegiate high schools are opening for the 2014-2015 school year in Tarrant County, where two are already operating. The Marine Creek Collegiate High School, the first in Tarrant County, graduated its first class this past spring, including several students who simultaneously received associate degrees. “These schools are growing because they need to grow,” said Joy Gates Black, TCC’s vice chancellor of academic affairs and student success. “This is something parents, students and the community supports and wants. “It targets students who might not otherwise go to college and puts them in a setting where they can take classes and credit from TCC and see themselves as college students,” she said. The Arlington Collegiate High School, the Everman Early College High School and the Grapevine-Colleyville Early College High School are among 44 early college high schools designated by the Texas Education Agency to begin this year. With the addition of the 44 new schools, Texas will have 109 early college high schools operating this year. “Texas is a leader in the number of early college high schools thanks to districts and charters seeking to provide students this unique learning opportunity, TEA Commissioner Michael Williams said in a statement. Early college high schools were introduced nationally in 2002 and approved by the Texas Legislature to begin in Texas in 2005. The first early college high schools opened in the 2006-2007 school year. House Bill 5 approved by the Texas Legislature in 2013 supports the establishment of early college high schools and other programs that put students, especially those at-risk of dropping out of high school, on the path to graduation and a college education. In a 2013 report, the American Institutes for Research found that 81 percent of early college high school students enrolled in college compared with 72 percent of students who did not attend one of these schools. The study of students in 10 early college high schools in the U.S. also found that 25 percent of these students went on to earn a college degree compared with 5 percent of those who didn’t participate.

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The first early college high school in Tarrant County is Marine Creek Collegiate High School, which opened in 2010 as a partnership between the Tarrant County College Northwest Campus and the Fort Worth and Lake Worth school districts. Lake Worth ISD recently pulled out, leaving Fort Worth as the only partner. The Fort Worth ISD also partners with Tarrant County College’s Trinity River Campus in downtown Fort Worth for the Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences (TABS), a program aimed at students interested in careers in science and medicine. The University of North Texas and the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth are also partners in the academy. Started in 2011, the academy will graduate its first class of seniors in 2015. The academy undergoes a major transformation this year as juniors and seniors are relocated from the TABS campus a 3813 Valentine St. to TCC’s Trinity River Campus for all their classes. Most early high school programs are housed in separate buildings from the college campuses or on high school campuses where college instructors are brought to the school. “Our students will definitely feel like they are in college this year,” said Troy Langston, principal of TABS. Students like Juan Carlos, a junior, and Angelica Shields, a senior, said they are looking forward to the experience. “I think it will really help us prepare for college and know what college is like,” said Juan, who hopes to eventually attend medical school. TABS is unique in Tarrant County because it has a focus that goes beyond the basic core curriculum classes that are available to most other local early high school students.

“Many of these students will be the first in their families to attend college and we are eager to see them realize that they can be successful in college,” said Tahita Fulkerson, president of the Trinity River Campus. Low-income, minority students comprise the majority in early college high schools in Texas and across the country. Texas’ rules limit enrollment to 100 per high school class and require that community college courses carry no cost to students. Texas students are recruited as freshmen and are expected to remain in the early high school program through graduation. “I knew when I signed up, there was no sports here,” said Angelica, who also wants to become a physician. “But if we are interested, we can do it at another school.” The University of North Texas Health Science Center, a co-partner to TABS, conducts a summer program to get students a first-hand look at the medical profession and provides tutoring help to students. Besides the academic benefits, early college high school students receive assistance from TCC advisors with college applications and financial aid to move ahead.

Besides TCC, the University of Texas at Arlington has created “Bound for Success,” a program that offers early admission to top high school students in the Arlington, Grand Prairie and Mansfield school districts to increase the number of high school students earning college degrees. The program offers academic advising and financial aid assistance as well as access to UTA events to encourage and motivate them to go to college. “The goal is to help students get into college and make it affordable,” said Kristin Sullivan, UTA assistant vice president for media relations.


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