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Combining a Fifth Year of High School and First Year of College: Creating a Win-Win-Win for Students, School District, and Community College

December 2012, Volume 7, Number 12

By Deron Fort

Over the past decade, numerous states have ramped up efforts to improve high school graduation rates and college going rates, particularly for students deemed more likely to fail in these pursuits. As economic opportunities have dwindled and recession has gripped the country, these efforts have taken on increased significance due to a reinvigorated belief that a high school diploma and at least some college credit, if not a college certificate or degree, are critical to an individual’s ability to find gainful employment.

In Eugene, Oregon, a partnership between the Eugene School District 4J and Lane Community College’s High School Connections Department is showing early signs of success in helping students earn a year’s worth of college credit prior to graduating from high school, at no cost to the student. Eugene’s Advanced Career Technical (A.C.T.) program is designed to offer students with college and career technical interests the opportunity to pursue those interests despite the fact that budget cuts in recent years have decimated the Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in the school district. 

High school students who meet A.C.T. eligibility requirements and are selected for the program are sponsored by the school district to complete a full year (up to 36 college credits) at Lane Community College during a fifth year of high school. Students must agree to delay the awarding of their high school diploma and understand that they are not eligible for federal financial aid during their A.C.T. sponsorship, but are able to opt out of the program at any time—and be awarded their high school diploma.

Students must apply and meet the following requirements to be eligible for the A.C.T. program:

  1. Successful completion of all high school graduation requirements, including at least one credit of CTE coursework at the high school level.
  2. Letter of recommendation from a career technical teacher.
  3. Sufficient community college placement test scores to be eligible for college credit coursework.
  4. Successful completion of the college level course, Gateway to College and Careers (RTEC 101), during the spring of their senior year of high school.

Once accepted, high school students begin by attending a mandatory two-hour orientation.  Through the orientation students learn about program requirements, which include:
(a) successful completion of RTEC 101, a course designed to ensure that students develop the skills necessary to transition successfully from the high school to the college environment while also exposing them to the resources and program options at Lane Community College; (b) enrollment in 6-12 college credits each term; (c) maintenance of acceptable attendance and academic performance requirements; and (d) regular meetings with their High School Connections advisor, who is a Lane Community College High School Connections staff member paid for with high school funds. To remain in the program, students must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0 and participate in tutoring should their grades drop. While enrolled in the A.C.T. scholarship program, all tuition and fees, including textbooks, are paid for by the school district.

In 2010-2011, the first year of the program, 24 students were accepted.  Now in year three, 96 slots (including 24 allotted to each of the four comprehensive high schools in the district) are made available to students. The program has become so competitive that waiting lists have been initiated so that students not initially selected may still get the scholarship opportunity if any students drop out.

Although students must delay receipt of their high school diploma while in the program, they have completed all high school graduation requirements and may participate in their high school’s graduation ceremony to celebrate the completion of four years of high school with their class. Students may also opt out of the scholarship at the end of any college term. At that time, the student will be awarded his or her high school diploma from the sending high school. The student may then elect to have his or her Lane Community College credits transferred back to the high school or submit to the high school registrar a Lane Community College transcript for the student’s permanent high school file.

The 4J A.C.T. program provides an extremely valuable learning and financial resource to students with an interest in career technical college coursework. Students have an opportunity—at no cost—to earn a college certificate and/or up to a full year of college credit applicable to an associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year institution before officially graduating from high school. In order to make the program available, the school district must value the five-year graduation rate over the four-year graduation rate and commit the resources to not only prepare students in advance for success in the college environment, but also to provide support during the fifth  year. One of the most valuable components of that support is the targeted, personalized, one-on-one advising provided by High School Connections advisors. These advisors also monitor student progress and maintain regular communication with high school representatives at each school to ensure that student attendance and performance markers are being met, and to problem-solve as necessary.

The students are not the only ones that benefit financially from this program. Lane Community College receives full tuition and fees from the school district for A.C.T. student enrollment, and at 36 credits per student (the goal), which equates to approximately $5,400 per student paid to the college. The school district also pays a $100 per student advising fee to fund the High School Connections advisors. In addition, enrollment of these students counts toward FTE for the college. Beyond the financial aspect, students who have a good experience during that first year of college coursework and see the value of their progress toward college completion are much more likely to continue at the college, making this program an excellent recruitment tool.

In analyzing the 2011-2012 A.C.T. cohort, 42 students started the program, with nine exiting or dropping out during the school year. Of the 33 who successfully completed the program, 27 successfully transitioned into a second year at Lane Community College and are currently enrolled at the college, working toward completion of a college certificate or degree. 

With this rate of success in terms of completion of a year of college and retention from year one to year two at the college, both partners are pleased with this initial success and have every expectation that the program will continue to grow. This innovative approach utilizing existing high school funding and delayed high school graduation is helping to launch career technical students who are currently underserved by their high schools into a successful community college experience and a future with promise.

Deron Fort is Director, High School Connections, at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.

Posted by The League for Innovation in the Community College on 12/01/2012 at 12:00 PM | Categories: Innovation Showcase -