early college

3 keys to student success with early college programs


Guilford County, N.C., is a national leader in providing early college opportunities for students. Here’s what other districts can learn from its success.

Here are three important lessons that K-12 leaders can learn from Guilford County’s success with its early college high school programs.

1. Leverage partnerships

“The success of our programs depends on collaborative partnerships with our higher-education institutions,” Hardy said. “And these truly are partnerships in every sense of the word.” Each of the early and middle college principals, as well as Guilford County’s regional superintendents, works closely with the president or provost at the district’s partner colleges and universities to develop and improve the programs.

GCS has clearly articulated agreements with its college and university partners that spell out which services each is responsible for. For instance, at the STEM Early College at A&T, the district covers the students’ tuition, transportation, and food service, while the university provides complete access to all resources a full-time A&T student would have, such as free tutoring from its Center for Academic Excellence.

Williams urged K-12 leaders to fully explore the opportunities these partnerships can provide. “Programs like these are like a breeding ground for collaboration,” she said, noting that A&T faculty have offered to write grants to help scale up the program.

GCS receives state funding to offset some of the cost of tuition and other expenses, and it also relies on grants and donations for assistance. AT&T, for example, has donated $250,000 to the Middle College at A&T over the last year.

“People want to invest in success,” Gause said, “and I think this program really exemplifies what students need in order to be prepared for college and a career.”

2. Prepare students for the transition to college-level work

Taking college-level courses, and being responsible for their own learning and for managing their time, can be a big leap for many high school students. To make the transition easier, K-12 leaders must ensure that students have the support they need to succeed.

All of the early and middle college programs in Guilford County provide wraparound services to help students excel. At the STEM Early College, a school counselor leads biweekly sessions for freshmen and sophomores in which the students learn skills such as time management strategies and how to deal with stress. A junior seminar program teaches students skills such as resume writing and how to produce college-level work.

Williams called the seminar “a good fit for our students.” She explained: “They’re college students, but they’re still only 16—and they’re still GCS students. It’s a good way to support them and make sure they have the skills they need, while filling in the gaps in maturity they might have because they are so young.”

When students are accepted into the Middle College at A&T, program administrators take them on a tour of the university, make sure they know where they can turn for help, and go over what is expected of them. A freshman seminar teaches them how to study effectively, and learning facilitators from both the high school and the university and available to guide them every step of the way.

3. Forge strong relationships with students

Another critical factor in the programs’ success is the attention they pay to forging strong personal relationships with students and fostering a close-knit sense of community.

“In our first week of school, there is no teaching allowed,” Gause said. “We are building relationships with students; we are having conversations to get to know who they are. We organize activities such as a basketball game with staff versus students. We let them know that we are real people, and we see them as real people as well. And when challenges do come along, and we have to get over those hurdles, we are able to get over those things together.”

He added: “Every student who walks through these doors is going to be loved and respected. It’s almost like a brotherhood. And our students really support one another as well.”

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