Supporters talk up early college programs
State House briefing aimed at shoring up funding
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
ANNA UREÑA-LUNA studies criminal justice at Salem State University. Zashari Sanchez, a high school student, just applied to a handful of colleges with hopes to work in law enforcement. High School sophomore Noelia Ramos wants to take psychology or sociology classes in college.
And they say they owe their success to early college programs offered throughout the state. The partnerships between public high schools and local institutions of higher education allow students to pursue college credits while still roaming the halls of secondary education institutions. Lawmakers, advocates, and education officials met at the State House Wednesday to push for an increase in funding for the programs.
“It was really helpful to have the early college experience since my parents cannot tell me about college, especially in the United States. What they knew about colleges [came] from the Dominican Republic where things are very different,” Ureña-Luna, a first-year at Salem State, said on Wednesday. “The early college program helped prepare me for success in college while also saving me time and money.”
Early college programs, she said, are carefully sequenced college classes taken during the high school day with academic and guidance support for students. The programs come at no cost to students or their families.
In two years, 2,300 students have enrolled in early college programs with 34 high schools and 16 higher education institutions participating.
“It is serving the highest needs students in our state,” Matias said at the briefing. “These students are performing well academically, earning higher average GPAs than fully matriculated college students.”
Sanchez, who attends Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, said entering into college classes while in high school was a culture shock but the early exposure will help her transition during her first year of college.
“I will be more prepared and I’ll know what to do,” she said at the briefing.
Gov. Charlie Baker submitted his proposed version of the fiscal 2021 budget in mid-January which includes both of the funding increases. Concurrent and Dual Enrollment Programs will be funded at $4.25 million and Early College Program is slated to receive $3 million if the governor’s budget passes unscathed.
State education officials expressed interest in early college initiatives on Thursday as they plan to review the first set of local achievement gap-closing plan required under a new seven-year school funding law known as the Student Opportunity Act. Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley wrote in a letter to local school officials that he wanted to accelerate the adoption of the programs.
Worcester Public School Superintendent Maureen Binienda said when her district decided to roll out the early college programs in September 2018, 83 students signed up. This semester, 474 students are in early college programs, a number which represents 10 percent of all students in Worcester Public Schools.
Worcester offers the program at seven high schools with 27 unique courses and 58 sections. English language learners make up a majority of those participating with 324 students involved. The racial breakdown shows that 13.3 percent students are Black, 9.5 percent Hispanic, 6.9 percent white, and 8 percent are homeless students.
“This has made a difference for our students,” she said at the briefing. “They’re going to college and they are feeling differently about themselves.”Ramos, a sophomore at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, said she will have a total of nine college credits at the end of her sophomore year with plans to take summer classes. She said she strives for opportunities that can put her on the right path.
“I believe that early college is what I need to be successful,” she said at the briefing. “I can learn new topics outside of the Madison Park curriculum and any regular high school curriculum. I can learn new skills that can help me get into college and my goal is to get my associate’s degree and get into college.”