In June 2015, educators and administrators from New Jersey’s Freehold Regional High School District (FRHSD) and Brookdale Community College met to brainstorm ways to use U.S. Department of Education Title I grant money to help economically disadvantaged high school students succeed in college.
The goal was to prepare them for the Accuplacer exam and teach them how to handle the rigors of college-level coursework. How students score on the Accuplacer exam determines whether they will need developmental education or will be placed directly into college-level courses.
“It was the first time that Title I money was approved for this purpose,” says Franklyn Rother, dean of academic and career transitions for Brookdale. “We were developing [the program] by the seat of our pants.”
By August, the program had received the green light, so the team developed the curriculum and guidelines for the 30-week program. Twenty-eight students committed to the program; to qualify, students needed to show deficiency on the Accuplacer diagnostic in at least one of four areas: algebra, computation, reading comprehension or sentence skills. Students were high school seniors who had had three years of prior interventions and grades of C minuses or less.
“We know from the data that the more foundation courses they have to take, the more likely they’ll drop out,” Rother says.
How the program works
Two nights a week, students attended evening classes in addition to their regular high school schedule. English and reading were integrated, so they wrote about what they’ read; the students also had math every week.
By January 2016, nine of the 28 students passed the Accuplacer exam and were eligible to take any three-credit course at Brookdale’s Freehold campus. The grant money paid for the classes.
Another seven students passed at least two parts of the exam and were allowed to take a one-credit freshman seminar while continuing to learn what they needed to pass the rest of the exam.
The program ended on June 9, and administrators awarded the students certificates at a graduation ceremony, which was packed with proud parents and grandparents, Rother says.
All the students’ scores increased from the initial diagnostic test, though not all students met the cut scores, Rother says. Those students will continue with college-placement preparation.
FRHSD administrators were pleased with the outcomes, and the program will be funded again next year, Rother says. In addition, he has met with parents and students at a second high school in the school district and was overwhelmed by the number of students interested in participating in such a program.
“The principals and teachers told us that all year these kids were coming back from the classes and telling them that they were college students,” Rother says. Participating students improved their study skills and their self-esteem, he adds.
Of this first group, three students are going to four-year institutions, and at least 15 will attend Brookdale in the fall. Just a few of the Brookdale students will need a foundation course, Rother says. The college waived their application fees.
“Providing these kinds of educational and economic opportunities for students in economically disadvantaged communities is a big part of our college’s social justice mission,” Rother says.