Showing Students They’re College-Ready

By Rebecca L. Weber

High school seniors take a full load of classes for free with the Community College of Vermont’s new transitional program.

Editor’s Note: This article is the first of a two-part series on successful programs that are preparing high school students for the rigors of college study. Look for the second article on the 21st-Century Center tomorrow morning.

The first group of Vermont high school seniors will soon complete the Community College of Vermont’s (CCV) Early College Program.

Fifty-eight students from 26 different high schools enrolled in the free program at 11 of CCV’s 12 locations for the 2014­–2015 school year. Working with both their high school guidance counselors and college advisers, students selected classes to meet requirements at both schools. They are taking a full load of four or five classes each semester at a CCV campus and are continuing to participate in high school extracurricular activities so social aspects of senior year are not missed.

The inaugural group of seniors hasn’t graduated yet, but it looks as if nearly all will be success stories: 96 percent of the students continued into spring 2015 after completing fall 2014, with a B+ average.

By the time their high school diplomas are completed, the students will also be about halfway through a CCV associate degree and will be able to prove to four-year institutions that they’re college-ready.

Vermont’s middle majority

Vermont faces an unusual situation: Its high school graduation rate is high, but its college continuation rate is low; only 52 percent of high school grads go straight to college — fewer than in any other New England state.

Some eventually find their way to CCV, which is the only community college in the mostly rural state.

But that’s frequently after a decade or more of working in minimum-wage jobs and becoming frustrated with the job market, says Joyce Judy, CCV president. Some 60 percent of Vermont’s new jobs in the coming years are projected to require education levels beyond high school.

Addressing the high attrition rate of students, especially those from low-income and first-generation families, led to the creation of the new program. While open to any qualified student, it’s fundamentally geared to reaching the middle majority of students, such as those who earn B’s and C’s.

Judy wants all Vermonters to know about the power of education and that they can go to college and be successful. “If they physically participated in a college course, they know that they can do that,” says Judy. “If they graduate knowing that, that is a start.”

Building on past success

The Early College Program is the latest way for high school students to start taking college classes at CCV.

Vermont’s state legislature recognized the advantages of investing in funding higher education on a larger scale when it passed Act 77 last summer, which encourages flexible pathways to secondary school completion.

For more than a decade, many high school juniors and seniors have taken one or two CCV classes through a dual-enrollment program.

Each year, 1,000 students enroll in Introduction to College Studies, a noncredit course geared toward transitioning students with problem-solving, time-management and financial-planning skills.

A large number of Vermont families home-school their children, and Judy says that CCV has long seen “a fair number of home-school students” who round out their education with college classes.

Getting the word out

If the target students responded to traditional marketing, there wouldn’t be such a large gap between completing high school and attending college in the first place. Judy says the challenge lies in “helping people realize that there’s an early-college program, and that it’s for them.”

CCV worked closely with high schools to identify students who want to be challenged their senior year, not coast through it.

“If they enroll in college, they have so many more opportunities,” says Judy. “It’s one of the most powerful ways out of poverty.”

 Has your college begun enrolling more high school students? In the Comments, tell us about your successes.

Rebecca L. Weber

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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