VACAVILLE — After three years of conversation and a year of planning, the idea of middle college high school is finally making a firm footprint in the Solano Community College and Vacaville School District communities.
The program, a partnership between the college and the school district, is set to begin with the 2013-14 school year, integrating incoming ninth-grade students from the district into college classes at Solano Community College’s Vacaville Center.
Dubbed Vacaville Early College High School, it gives motivated students the opportunity to earn college credit during their four years in high school and possibly graduate with a college associate degree in addition to a high school diploma. It will be a districtwide program but will be housed at Will C. Wood High School.
The district has set up several meetings this month to introduce parents and students to the concept and find out if it is right for them. They are:
The program prepares students for college success.
One of the goals is to help at-risk students, who are performing below their academic potential, stay in school and reduce the dropout rate, said Shirley Lewis, dean of the Vacaville Center.
Mark Frazier, the chief academic officer with the Vacaville School District, said the program is perfectly designed for students underrepresented in higher education who might have trouble accessing college or for those who might be the first in their family to enter college.
“It’s a great program,” he said. “It serves students well.”
There are about 60 middle colleges, also called early college, in California. Students involved in middle college programs throughout the United States graduate at a rate of 93 percent compared with the national rate of 75 percent, according to Jobs for the Future, which operates the Early College High School Initiative. The statistics were supplied to the Daily Republic by the Foundation for California Community Colleges.
“They’ve had great success with high graduation rates when compared with traditional high schools,” Lewis said. “They’re not only graduating from high school but (also) graduating with one or two years of college credit. Many earn their (associate) degree. It’s rigorous to do that but students have done it.”
About 23 percent of graduates of middle colleges that have been open four or more years earn an associate degree along with a high school diploma and 76 percent of graduates of middle college continue their college education as opposed to the national rate of 68 percent, according to Jobs for the Future.
The first year of Vacaville’s program will include 60 incoming ninth-grade students who will take classes at Wood in the morning and be bused using district buses to the Vacaville Center two days a week. There they would take additional high school classes in the afternoon. Students would need to find alternate transportation home. In addition to the high school classes at the Vacaville Center, ninth-graders are required to take one Solano Community College class each semester, Frazier said.
“We want to orient them to the college environment first and then ease them into college classes,” Lewis said.
Additional incoming classes will be added each year and within four years about 240 students – of all grades – will be involved in the program with the goal of the entire program being located at the Vacaville Center at that time.
“Eventually it will become its own school,” Frazier said. “That’s the plan at this point.”
The school district is responsible financially for the program. Most of the money is already built into the general fund since the students and teachers are already within the district, Frazier said.
There are additional costs, however. They include, among other items, busing the students to the Vacaville Center and the cost of college textbooks, unless the students elect to purchase their own. The first year, the program is estimated to cost the district an extra $22,225. In four years, with 240 students and eight teachers, those costs rise to an estimated $51,400.
For those interested, applications are due in April and from there the selection process begins, which includes an interview.
For more information, go to www.vacavilleusd.org/vechs.
The middle college concept is also planned for the Fairfield-Suisun School District. Classes will be held at Rodriguez High School and the Fairfield campus of Solano Community College, Lewis said. Attempts to reach Sheila McCabe, the Fairfield-Suisun director of secondary education, were unsuccessful.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.
Source: Jobs for the Future