Bad Early College

Many tout early college as a great way to get students motivated and earning college credits. Early college, which blends secondary school with higher ed by giving high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to attend and earn credits in college, is supposed to help kids advance quickly into college. “As a nation, we just can’t afford to have students spending four years or more getting through high school, when we all know senior year is a waste,” said Hilary Pennington of the Gates Foundation once about the importance of early college.

Early college is supposed to fix that. And it can, except, well, when the early college program is really bad. An article by Jennifer Smith Richards in the Columbus Dispatch indicates that a two-year-old Ohio program, Seniors to Sophomores, doesn’t really work at all:

Some of the 49 school districts that tried the new program learned that it wasn’t feasible for students to spend their entire school day on campus. Rural students often were too far from campus to attend college, principals didn’t want to lose per-pupil funding for those students, and the students didn’t like the idea of missing out on the senior-year experience at their high schools.

Plus, the only state funding was a one-time grant of no more than $100,000. After that, the colleges and high schools were on their own to figure out how to pay for it. Each college and high school worked out their own agreements for paying tuition. Some high schools handed over their state per-pupil funding. Some colleges gave high schools a price break. But neither typically is happy with such arrangements because, either way, someone is losing money.

Because it turns out that while 27,000 high school students took college classes last year, some states don’t do a very good job managing an early college program. In fact, it looks like Ohio’s program was particularly sloppy. While the program allows academically qualified students to enroll in Ohio state colleges, Ohio State University reports only three high-school age students. Stark State College enrolled 35 high-school students through the Seniors to Sophomores program last school year. This year it has zero.

The biggest problem appears to be the funding stream. While students may have wanted a “senior year experience” it appears they were perfectly willing to go to college if college were reasonably convenient. Hocking College, for instance, enrolled many high school students, once it figured how to create a program that worked for students. Hocking also changes high school students a small administrative fee to cover additional costs.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer