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Next Class of Early College High School Students Preparing for College

AUSTIN, Texas– Hundreds of Austin students will enter college next fall just as they are entering high school, through the Early College High School (ECHS) program. A partnership between AISD and the Austin Community College District (ACC), ECHS began at Reagan and LBJ high schools this academic year. The initiative creates opportunities for students to earn tuition-free, college credit that also satisfies high school requirements. With hard work, ECHS students who begin college classes during the ninth grade can earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree in four years.

"The Early College High School program is fundamentally changing how our students and their families think about their educational future," says AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. "We are creating an environment in which college is more than a possibility. It is an expectation."

Unlike ACC's Early College Start, a dual-enrollment program for high school juniors and seniors, ECHS allows students who meet college-readiness standards to start college courses their freshman year. Students who are working to meet college-readiness standards can prepare for college by enrolling in a college transition course.

The program opens up higher education to students who might not have otherwise considered it, including students from low-income communities and first-generation college students.

"It made college more real to me," says Dimitri Turnipseed, an LBJ senior who is the first in his family to go to college. "You hear about college; now I see it for myself. It seems more possible."

First-year data from the ECHS office reveal promising results. Currently 386 Reagan students and 328 LBJ students are enrolled at ACC, many in the college transition course. Preliminary completion rates (a reflection of students passing classes with grades of A, B, or C) exceed 80 percent at both high schools.

"This is a solid starting point, and we will be especially interested in what happens four years from now," says Dr. Richard Rhodes, ACC president/CEO. "The full impact will be more clear after the current freshman class graduates."

Courses are taught by ACC faculty. Students can attend college classes at their high school during the school day or at other times at any ACC campus. College tuition and textbooks are free, adding up to thousands of dollars in savings for students and their families. Students have access to the full range of ACC support services, including college advising, career counseling, and free tutoring.

"I'm seeing students who would otherwise be at risk of not attending college doing some good work in my class," says Professor Raymond Gerson, who teaches the college transition course at Reagan. "It's exciting to be part of a cutting-edge venture. This is an incredible opportunity for these kids."

AISD's Early College High School program is funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and supported through local AISD funds. Additional financial resources for Reagan Early College High School are provided through the Texas Education Agency's Texas Title I Priorities Schools Grant, funded through the School Improvement Grant. Educate Texas, formerly known as the Texas High School Project, also provided support and guidance for the initiative.