US tests new school-university partnerships

Colleges hope that disadvantaged students might do better if their school counselors are given a chance to come along with them

February 15, 2023
Two people using one bike with person at the back carrying a bike on her shoulder to illustrate US tests new school-university partnerships
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US high schools are testing an unconventional way of helping their students begin college – by going along with them.

Under a method being tried across several states, small numbers of students who have completed their high school requirements are being guided into beginning their college careers without collecting their graduation diploma. That lets them remain officially part of their high school communities – keeping them directly connected to guidance counsellors – while they start attending two-year or four-year universities.

The experiment is part of a smorgasbord of attempts nationwide to raise enrolment and graduation rates among students – generally from low-income, minority and first-in-their-family backgrounds – whose post-secondary pathways often get derailed after students leave the familiarity of their school environments.

In a big-picture sense, the idea dates back to the introduction in the 1950s of Advanced Placement courses, in which college-level courses were taught in high schools. But while the AP courses were aimed at wealthier families, a newer generation of college courses taught in US high schools focuses on those who are less advantaged, said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Centre on Education and the Workforce.

One of the most ambitious adaptions of that concept is the network of 130 Cooperative Innovative High Schools in North Carolina, where students try to complete as much as two years of college-level coursework while earning their high-school diplomas.

“A big part of this is the support that the model provides to students,” said Julie Edmunds, a programme director at Serve, a research centre at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro that has studied her state’s initiative. Dr Edmunds is co-author of a new bookEarly Colleges as a Model for Schooling, that argues forcefully for the wider adoption of such systems.

Elsewhere, the Massachusetts Alliance for Early College has signed up nine high schools for its version in its first two-plus years, including an inner-city Boston school that expects to send 10 to 15 pupils to the University of Massachusetts Boston this autumn without their high school diplomas.

The general understanding is that the students will attend UMass-Boston as freshmen, but return to their high school on a regular basis for “some group advising and meetings”, executive director Erika Giampietro said. School counsellors can also visit the college campus, she said. “If we can wrap our arms around students, both from the high school and the college, and bridge that chasm, it increases the students’ chances of success,” Ms Giampietro said.

The programme is focused initially on students studying health professions and education, and the participants can back out at any time, leave their college, and immediately collect the high school diploma they already earned.

Joseph Berger, UMass-Boston’s provost, was enthusiastic about the possibility of charting a new pathway for students who need the help. “It’s sort of like a softer hand-off,” he said.

It reflects a recognition among high school and college leaders across the US, Professor Carnevale said, that they still need better and more personal solutions for the many disadvantaged students struggling to navigate the transition.

Many universities, Professor Carnevale said, have experimented with counselling systems that try to closely watch their students – such as using electronic records to find if they missed classes, and then step in to intervene. But on balance, he said, that approach doesn’t seem to be effective. “Counselling doesn’t work unless it’s face-to-face, and counselling doesn’t work unless it’s relationship-building,” he said.

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