Colleges laud benefits of K-12 partnerships

Dual-enrollment students at the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa. (Photo: Kirkwood Community College)

Many community colleges that collaborate with secondary schools are reaping huge benefits, including helping students who are better prepared to succeed.

Leaders of two colleges and their school district partners will describe their experiences March 13 at the latest session of an ongoing series on improving college readiness hosted by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and AASA, The School Superintendents Association. The meeting on Monday is sponsored by ACT.

Community college-high school collaboration is important because 70 percent of all new jobs require some postsecondary education, says Mick Starcevich, president of Kirkwood Community College (KCC) in Iowa.

KCC has agreements with 32 K-12 school districts, serving about 40 high schools. This year, a little over 5,000 high school students are participating in dual-enrollment courses taught by college faculty in the high schools, at an alternative high school or at regional centers run jointly by local school districts.

Regional centers

High school students can earn 15 to 30 college credits and stackable certifications at four regional centers that provide college-level career and technical education (CTE) and general education college courses.

Last year, 13 students earned an associate degree along with their high school diploma, Starcevich says. Students can start as high school freshmen if they meet the eligibility criteria.

The Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa (UI), operated in partnership with the Iowa City Community School District, opened last year. Dual-enrollment high school students come to the center for part of the day to take courses in a career academy – such as information technology, welding, construction, pre-engineering, advanced manufacturing, patient care and many others – along with general education college courses in writing, psychology or other subjects.

Currently in its second year, enrollment in the Kirkwood Center on the UI campus has doubled from 155 high school students in year one to 300 this year, says Stephen Murley, superintendent of the Iowa City school system.

“My hope would be over time, every student has the opportunity to participate in at least one academy,” Murley says.

Concurrent enrollment students are “slightly more likely to enroll at Kirkwood,” Starcevich says. But the benefits of the program go beyond recruiting students for the college.

“We need to make all of our schools opportunity systems,” says Starcevich, who served as a school superintendent for 23 years in three Iowa school districts.

“The senior year of high school is a wasteland. It’s not academically useful,” he says. Students who don’t take math in their senior year are more likely to end up in developmental education.

Many benefits

The regional centers benefit the K-12 system by allowing high schools to expand their course offerings. “Even though we are the fifth largest school district in Iowa, we don’t have enough students to offer the specialized classes we’d like,” Murley says.

School districts also can’t afford the expensive equipment needed for CTE programs, he says. “Combining and pooling resources makes all the difference in the world for us.”

The centers offer clear benefits for students, as well. Families save money, as the school district pays the tuition at the regional centers. Last year, that totaled to $5.4 million in savings for parents, Starcevich says.

The regional centers help students stay engaged in their education while they take academic courses to prepare them for the rigors of college, Starcevich says. The program also builds confidence among students who didn’t think they had what it takes to succeed in college.

“Students who participate in postsecondary education opportunities while in high school have a greater college-going rate, and once they get to college, they succeed at a much greater rate,” Murley says.

Students who have those experiences on a higher education campus do even better, he says, noting that the regional center at UI “really feels like a college campus.”

Murley’s son is having “a great experience in a computer science cluster” at that center. When he finishes, he will not only have 12 college credits, but “will have a chance to test drive a computer science career. He’s been on a college campus, taken college courses, and knows how to succeed in college.”

The school district uses state funds to pay students’ tuition at the regional center. UI donated the land, and KCC used bond funds to construct the building. The school district pays for transportation in the form of a bus that travels in a loop all day among the center and three high schools.

Other educational entities are housed at the regional center at UI, too, including the governor’s STEM advisory council and Workplace Learning Connection, an agency that offers job shadowing and internships for students in high school, KCC and UI.

College credits

Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) in Maryland has a longstanding partnership with the local school district that serves about 1,000 dual-enrollment students.

A key element is PGCC’s Academy of Health Sciences, which enrolls 400 students in grades 9-12, most of whom plan to pursue careers as pediatricians, other types of physicians, biomedical engineers or other health professionals, says PGCC President Charlene Dukes, immediate past-chair of the AACC board of directors.

Students who complete the program can earn a high school diploma and associate degree on the same day.

Several students who entered the academy in fall 2011, its first year, are already in graduate school, Dukes notes. Students in the first class received a cumulative $9 million in scholarships from various sources to transfer to a four-year college. That increased to nearly $18 million for the second class and could reach $28 million for the current class.

Any high school student in Prince George’s County Public Schools can enroll in dual-enrollment college courses as long as they’re college-ready in English and math. Dual-enrollment courses are offered at PGCC in the late afternoon, evenings and Saturdays.

High school students can take a placement test to see if they qualify, and if not, can take a series of transitional courses in English and math with college and high school faculty working side by side. That allows high school students “to turn their weaknesses into strengths” while still in high school, thus reducing the need for remediation, Dukes says.

There’s also a “hub school” at Oxon Hill High School with college courses taught during non-high school hours by PGCC faculty. Those are mostly general education courses – in English, history, art, psychology and the like – with credits transferable to the community college.

Tuition breaks

The college tuition for dual enrollment is covered by the school district. PGCC provides a 50 percent discount in tuition “to make sure income is not a barrier to participation,” Dukes says. The school system also covers college fees for all dual-enrollment students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Under a policy approved by the PGCC board, any dual-enrollment student who enters PGCC after graduating from high school continues to receive a 50 percent tuition waiver.

PGCC is expanding its partnership with the school system next year in two areas, Dukes says. The college plans to open two P-TECH schools next fall, one focusing on hospitality and one on health programs. Each one will serve 30 to 50 students.

P-TECH is an early college model serving grades 9-14 that allows students to earn a high school diploma and associate degree while gaining career skills and workplace experience.

PGCC also hopes to set up another academy, this one on teacher education, with the goal of creating a pathway for students through high school, community college, a four-year institution – and back to the local public schools as teachers.

Dukes urges other college leaders interested in creating partnerships with K-12 school systems to “always think big, always be willing to be in the room, and don’t let what it will cost get in the way of your vision.”

The discussions about costs will come later. “If we think about money first, it can wear you down,” she says. “If you understand the vision, you can make it work.”

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.