Graduating from College Before High School? A New National Model

NationalPolicy
Posted By Terri Williams on June 2, 2017 at 7:33 am
Graduating from College Before High School? A New National Model

Last month, Raven Osborne earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Purdue University Northwest. A few days after graduating from college, she earned her high school diploma. If that sounds unusual, consider this: six of Osborne’s high school classmates in Gary, Ind., earned associate degrees a few days before receiving their high school diplomas. In fact, 100% of the students graduating from Raven’s high school have already amassed college credits.

Raven and her classmates attended 21st Century Charter High School, a GEO Foundation school. The GEO Foundation has a network of K-12 Academies in Indiana, Colorado, and Louisiana. The schools provide an opportunity for high school students to complete the requirements to graduate from high school while also accruing college credits. Students take classes on college campuses – free of charge.

And, Kevin Teasley, CEO of the GEO Foundation, wants to turn this into a national model for high schools. Teasley tells GoodCall® that this plan would work in any school in the country committed to advancing the best interest of the students. “21st Century Charter High School in Gary, Indiana, has 900 students, and Pikes Peak Prep in Colorado Springs has 300 students:  when you harness the power of the community college, four-year colleges and high schools, you are going to be opening up the potential of these students.”

According to Teasley, 100 percent of the students participate in the program, though not all are graduating from college like Osborne. As early as the 7th grade, students must take – and successfully pass – the Accuplacer exam. “All of our students must earn at least three college credits,” Teasley explains. “The average student in our school in Gary has earned 17 college credits; the average student in our Colorado Springs school has earned 34 credits.”

How the program can help

The program addresses some issues revealed in a new report that found too few college students graduate and too few graduate on time. The reasons range from academic unpreparedness to family background. First-generational college students are less likely to understand and be able to navigate the application process.

At the same time that graduating from college is increasingly becoming a requirement for most jobs, roadblocks to paying for college keep many young adults – especially those from low income families – off the higher ed path.

According to City-Data.com, the median annual income in Gary was $30,467 in 2015. Only 12.6% of the city’s population has a bachelor’s degree. “Our goal is to beat poverty, and we do that by getting our kids comfortable being in a college classroom,” Teasley says. “Too many inner-city families don’t believe that their kids will get into college, so there’s fewer reasons to graduate from high school.” And, he believes that in this type of environment, many smart, inner-city students don’t take school as seriously as they should.

“My 2012 class was black, impoverished, and first generation high schoolers, and 60% have already earned some degree because of the experience they’ve had in college while in still in high school.”

And Teasley says the graduates are achieving success. “Kids from this program have gone on to law school, one is an engineer, one is a teacher.”

Helping supply meet demand

There’s a disconnect between the most popular majors among students graduating from college and the most in-demand majors among employers, with the latter scouring the country looking for STEM grads.

But the program appears to address this issue. “We have robotics and science, but where we push them is at junior level math (which is typically college math) so why not take an actual college math class instead of the high school version?” Teasley asks. “With AP tests, you may take the course, but if you don’t pass the test, you won’t get credit; however, when you take college courses, you do get credit for passing the course.”

The high school pays college tuition and covers the cost of textbooks and transportation. “Our high school schedule mimics college with classes on Mondays/Wednesday, and on Tuesdays/Thursdays,” Teasley says.  In the event of a scheduling conflict, college level courses take precedence over high school courses, and students are allowed to make-up high school work that is missed while attending college.

How she managed graduating from college and high school

Osborne was the first GEO student to earn a bachelor’s degree while completing high school. So how was Osborne able to juggle high school and college classes? “I took summer classes for three summers: before the 9th, 10th and 11th grades, and I took off last summer before my senior year,” explains Osborne, who says she did not take night or weekend classes. “I was also able to get dual credit for some courses, like college Spanish, which counts for a high school language credit and college language credit.”

However, during her sophomore year, she felt almost overwhelmed because she had 4 college classes and 5 high school classes. “That was the only time I doubted for just one moment.”

But looking back, Osborne feels pride and a sense of accomplishment for starting as a freshman in both high school and college, and graduating 4 years later from both. Osborne is also grateful to her school, and she plans to return – as a teacher. “I will be a reading intervention teacher in the lower grades (the elementary school students),” Osborne says. “I am excited because I am already teaching as an intern so it will be fun to teach full time.”

She also realizes that she’s a role model after graduating from college while in high school and embraces her newfound status and the opportunity to pay it forward. “Many other students in the high school and lower grades have said they want to accomplish this too,” Osborne says. “I have offered to mentor anyone who wants to earn their 2 or 4 year degrees; I am here to help my school and my community.”

Teasley is a major believer in the power of example.  He believes that it’s not enough to just talk about going to college, especially when some students don’t consider themselves college material.  But the examples set by Osborne aren’t just influencing fellow students – they’re also prompting parents to return to school. “One of our bus drivers, a mother, drove the kids – including her daughter – to college campuses, and one day she decided to finish her schooling.” So, the mother enrolled at Purdue and now, she also has a degree.

“If we can do this in Gary, Indiana, we can do it everywhere,” Teasley concludes. “But we’ve got to see principals and superintendents saying, ‘How can I serve my students better?’ instead of how do they build bigger facilities, etcetera.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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