Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Program to Deter High School Dropouts by Offering College Courses Is Approved

Published: October 24, 2007

Trying to improve New York’s high school graduation rates, state education officials are proposing to place 12,000 potential dropouts a year in college classes while they are still in high school. The plan, approved yesterday by the state’s Board of Regents, “would provide funding for students to take genuine college courses and receive credit for high school as well as for college,” said the state education commissioner, Richard P. Mills.

“Instead of a four-plus-four plan — four years of high school and four years of college — students could actually complete high school and a bachelor’s degree in seven years,” the commissioner said. “And they would not be taking just random courses, but a set of courses accepted by higher education”

“Schools and colleges will be working together to pull youngsters who never would have had a chance, never would have considered a college career, to pull them into success,” he added.

A recent study of dual-enrollment programs in New York and Florida found that students in them were more likely to earn high school diplomas, to enroll in postsecondary education and to stay in college for more than one semester. The study, by researchers at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, also found that low-income students benefited more from such programs than other students did.

No legislation is required to put the program in place. But the department will include the proposal as part of a presentation to the governor’s budget division and legislators today, and ask for $100 million to pay for the program, which it hopes will enroll students in the fall of 2009. Department officials said yesterday that they had also begun to seek private financing and hoped to start the program even if they did not receive state money.

“It’s such a good model that we would figure out some way to make it work,” said Johanna Duncan-Poitier, senior deputy state education commissioner, one of the program’s architects.

Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick of Manhattan, chairwoman of the higher education committee, called the proposal "a great idea” when it was described to her.

“Especially with the expense of college being what it is, if you can get kids from disadvantaged families to complete college work in high school, they would be saving substantial dollars," she said, and added that the program might eliminate “one of the most serious barriers to kids completing college.”

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, which has worked with the New York City Education Department to create and run an early-college high school where students complete two years of college by the time they graduate, and plans to open a second such school soon, called the Education Department plan “a noble idea,” but expressed concern about its execution.

“The idea would be to improve the quality of teaching and the treatment of students as adults,” he said. “This is easier said than done. You can’t do it in the environment of the traditional high school. You need entirely different faculty. If you’re going to enroll disadvantaged students who are underperforming, you need people who have a mission to turn this around.”

Typically, high-achieving students do college work while still in high school, through course work at nearby colleges or in advanced classes in their schools.

But in the nationwide quest to reduce high school dropout rates, using a similar strategy for lower-performing students has been drawing growing attention. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for instance, has been a significant backer of high schools that also offer college work, including a growing number in New York City. Education officials pointed to several New York programs as models for their new proposal.

One model for the Regents’ proposal was the City University of New York’s “College Now,” which provided courses to more than 29,000 high school students last year. Nearly 300 city high schools participate.

Another model was the early college high schools, where students graduate from high school with a year or two of college credits, that have sprung up in New York City and elsewhere in recent years. Officials also pointed to programs for high school students offered by the State University of New York and some private colleges.

Joseph P. Frey, an associate education commissioner, said the department did not have a specific model in mind but hoped to attract many high schools and colleges into collaborations next year, when it solicits proposals.

“It is not clear that there is one best pathway,” he said. “We want a diversity of approaches here.”

“One of the critical intents is to get students excited about what they could do, and to get them to work at a highly competitive level,” Mr. Frey added. “That is something that would assist students to stay in school, and to not need remediation in college. And it will save money over the long term.”

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