An Early Taste of College Academics
Students dually enrolled in high school and university classes benefit best when these four practices are part of their program
BY KATIE VARATTA AND KATE WESTRICH/School Administrator, November 2018

Katie Varatta
For many years, high school students have had an array of supportive services to help them enroll in college, largely in the form of navigating admission and financial aid processes. This guidance may have eased the path to college, but the gap between college enrollment and college completion is still wide.

The failure to graduate with an undergraduate degree is particularly common among students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, who may be the first in their family to matriculate to a college or university. K-12 educators have a major role to play in addressing this serious shortcoming. It’s no longer a question of how do we make college accessible but how do we fully prepare our students so they complete degree programs?

Dual enrollment offers a practical purpose for students to acquire college credits. These programs offer a practical route for high school students to earn college credits, to experience the challenges of college-level academics and to learn how to navigate an institution of higher education before matriculating.

“Early college high schools and dual and concurrent enrollment break down traditional silos between K-12 and higher education, enabling students to earn postsecondary credit while in high school,” says Lillian Pace, senior director of national policy for KnowledgeWorks, a nonprofit organization promoting personalized learning for students. “Both options put students on a more efficient pathway to college, lower the cost of postsecondary education and reduce the amount of time needed to complete a college degree.”

The Ohio Early College Association, a network of 13 early colleges, recently shared data showing early college graduates are 2½ times more likely to graduate from college than their Ohio peers in similar districts. At early college high schools, students can earn up to 60 hours of college credit while still in high school, at no cost to the student and their family.

The association’s data are reinforced by numerous studies by Jobs for the Future and the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships showing high schoolers who are enrolled in college-level classes are more likely to obtain college certification. But there are variations of success when we break down the findings from the association by high school, meaning some early colleges are more effective than others. Within Ohio’s network, some have college completion rates of up to 58 percent while others show completion rates as low as 12 percent. On average, 39 percent of the graduates of Ohio’s Early College Association schools went on to graduate from college, compared to 15 percent of their peers within Ohio’s eight urban school districts.

Requisite Supports
This begs the question: What are the targeted supports and interventions students need to be successful and when do they need them?

The answers will differ from one school community to the next, yet our organization in working with schools across Ohio has identified several practices that distinguish high-quality dual and concurrent enrollment programs leading widely to completion of college degrees.

» PERSONALIZED SUPPORT FOR ALL STUDENTS. Ask students about their needs and conduct formative assessments to identify the targeted interventions and tiered supports that will best help students when they need it.

The University of Toledo, the higher education partner for Toledo Early College High School, has developed success coaches as part of an early warning system to keep students on track to success. This personalized support system considers students’ life transitions, goal setting, time management, career exploration, study strategies, financial aid, budgeting, networking, tutoring and more.

Cheryl Connolly, principal of Akron Early College High School in Akron, Ohio, which offers a full-year seminar with University of Akron for college-bound students.

About 275 students took part in the Toledo Early College High School in 2017-18, enrolled in courses in career and self-evaluation, orientation strategies for college success, communications, cultural anthropology and theater, as well as classes in engineering, education and pharmacy.

By identifying early in the semester those students who may need some additional support, the university can develop a plan tailored to their needs, says Kari Dilworth, one of the two success coaches who work with high schoolers enrolled in the Toledo Early College High School.

» COLLEGE LIAISONS. Identify a “champion” to bridge the gap between high school and higher education.

Secondary and postsecondary education often operate in distinct silos that don’t interact. Establishing partnerships between these two entities is the first of many steps to providing learning opportunities to better prepare students for the rigors of college life. We’ve found several examples where college liaisons can bridge a gap and spur student growth.

Dennis Trenger served for many years as the college liaison between Stark State College in Canton, Ohio, and Timken Early College High School, where more than 460 high school students enrolled in college-level coursework in the past year. Trenger would facilitate a successful exchange of resources and ideas by convening a quarterly design session with the partner institutions. He recruited higher education teaching resources and helped students and staff at the high school in navigating college culture.

“You are advocating for students, faculty and parents and you are working with leadership from both sides,” he says. “If that piece isn’t solid, the early college high school and higher education relationship won’t work as effectively as possible.”
Cheryl Connolly, principal of Akron Early College High School, described one of the most promising practices her program has used to raise the college completion rate for students: a senior seminar, co-taught by counselors from the high school and the University of Akron. All 83 seniors participated in the full-year seminar in 2017-18.

“The seminar features guest speakers to address careers, best ways to navigate university life, and giving back to the community and others to help create the well-rounded graduate,” Connolly says.

» PARTNERSHIP A RELATIONSHIP. Deep, rich partnerships are an essential component of dual enrollment.

Close collaboration among the school and its partners ramps up the rigor of learning experiences through implementation. Creative practices emerge when both the school and the university come to the table with the attitude of “what’s in it for them,” not just “what’s in it for me.”

It’s that close partnership that allows Kelly Herold, assistant to the dean at the University of Akron, to say, “Akron Early College High School students become University of Akron students the day they step on campus.”

The difference between early college and college is minimized by the close working relationship between the high school and the university.

Connolly, Akron’s principal, says one thing that works well for them is locating the dual enrollment classes on the University of Akron campus. “Having college students working alongside our students creates the high expectations necessary to be successful in high school and college,” she says. “Our students over the years have won various awards from their professors for being outstanding students in their programs. They become immersed in the college culture, which contributes to them being successful.”

Dual enrollment partnerships extend beyond the school walls and campus boundaries, reaching into the larger community. The first graduating class of the Marysville Early College High School in Marysville, Ohio, benefitted from partnerships with Honda of America Manufacturing, Columbus State Community College, Union County Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Hi-Point and others in the workforce. No matter which level of education we work in, strong partnerships between school districts, community organizations, local industry leaders and higher education institutions can be built over time to create relevant learning opportunities.

» LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT AND CAPACITY BUILDING. Identify leaders and establish ways to build capacity at every level — classroom, school and district.

At the district level, support from the superintendent plays significantly in the success of dual enrollment schools. In Akron, David James, the superintendent, lends his support directly to Connolly, who is the third principal of Akron Early College High School, which opened in 2007. “Being very unique and different from the other high schools, having prior knowledge of how our program works, being part of this program from the beginning gives continuity to the momentum that we have built and continue to tweak to maintain our success,” Connolly says.

Dual enrollment options have been around for decades. As we expand the academic options for students and make the dream of a college degree a reality for many, the education community now must build upon best practices to ensure more students achieve college completion.

KATIE VARATTA is a former network manager at KnowledgeWorks in Cincinnati, Ohio. KATE WESTRICH is director of digital strategy at KnowledgeWorks.