Early College Serves Students and Employers

Early College Serves Students and Employers

by Eileen Wedegartner

Lowering the barriers to opportunity

The need for a workforce with strong technical skills continues to grow in Massachusetts. Boston’s skyline, the Seaport, Kendall Square, Longwood, Kenmore Square and the spreading biotech campuses along 95 and 495 give tangible evidence of this need. The drivers of the Massachusetts economy demand workers who have strong skill sets.

Long before the newer buildings went up, a stack of studies documented that Massachusetts is a knowledge-driven, highly skilled market. Recognizing this fact, the Board of Higher Education (BHE) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) have partnered to fund grants that bring the college experience into high schools. Along with that, colleges and universities have worked to bring dual enrollment programs to high school students. There are two forms of these programs, Early College and Dual Enrollment. Both bring college courses and credits into high schools. JFYNetWorks is proud to be a partner in that process.

Even though there are many higher education options for students within the state, there is a significant gap in college degree attainment for low-income students. Ensuring that all students can participate in the Massachusetts job market is essential for sustained economic growth, to say nothing of equity. Programs that remove barriers to success for low-income students hold promise. Last month, MassINC released a discussion paper titled Early College as a Force for Equity in the Post-Pandemic Era. It notes, “Recent research shows that students who participate in Early College are more likely to attend four-year colleges and complete a four-year degree faster than those who do not.”

Allowing high school students to take free college courses while in high school is an excellent opportunity for students to save on the burdensome costs of higher education. It also charts a pathway to college for students who may not have envisioned college as part of their future. Removing barriers to student success is a service for students and for the industries who need them in their workforce.

For the past three years, JFYNetWorks has worked with BMC Durfee High School in Fall River to support students who simultaneously take classes at the high school and at Bridgewater State University. The courses fulfill general education requirements and are part of the Mass Transfer agreement so that the credits can be transferred throughout the state public higher education system. They include entry-level college writing, public speaking, journalism, history, statistics, social sciences and many more.

Students are in class three days a week with the professors and classroom teachers. They have the other two periods to do their class work and check-ins with student support services. The support role is there to help students navigate the differences between high school and college expectations, help them with any questions or concerns, and work on issues like time management, study skills and self-advocacy.

During my years with Durfee and BSU, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with many students who have not only demonstrated their readiness for college-level academics but have also demonstrated a strong ability to persevere through challenging work. On top of this, I have had the pleasure of watching young people grow into college-bound students who are great self-advocates and reflective learners who take pride in their growth.

Last year I talked with many students as they decided where to go to school. One young lady changed her plans to begin her college experience at the local state university instead of an out-of-state option she had been considering. This was a great decision both for her and for the state as she was walking into college with a semester’s worth of credits under her belt. Not only will she be able to complete a four-year degree in less than four years and with less total cost, but she will also be more likely to stay in Massachusetts and help fill the state’s workforce needs.

Upon parting, this student left me a note that read, “Thank you for all you did to help me succeed in my classes! I wanted to tell you that I have chosen to attend BSU, and my major is criminal justice with a minor in communications. I hope our paths cross again someday!” This student’s confidence and readiness for the college experience will start her off on the right foot at Bridgewater State.

This year, I was worried about the challenges of being fully remote. While there have been struggles, what I have learned, and what I think many students have learned, is that they are stronger than they realized at the beginning.

One particular student comes to mind who found herself struggling before the final exam last year. After some meetings, she chunked out her work and handed it in to successfully complete the course. As a junior, she will go into her senior year with six credits and will earn more credits next year. While she had hit some bumps in the road the first semester, she learned from the hiccups and planned better this semester. She is ahead of the game on her final project, on a path to successful completion in a field she enjoys.

I look forward to seeing her next year as we continue our work. I look forward to meeting the new students who come on board to get into the dual enrollment/early college stream. Watching high school students make the transition from high school to college is exciting. Knowing that I can play a small part in clearing their path to college is the most rewarding part of my work.

Click here for more information on MassTransfer.

Eileen Wedegartner is a Learning Specialist with JFYNetWorks.

Other posts authored by Eileen can be found here.

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