The Changing Face of College

Everyone seems to be talking about college all of a sudden -- not just meThe Times reports a very interesting trend: early college programs, in which students take five years to earn both a high school diploma and a two-year college degree.  There have always been schools who will do this for high-achieving students, but now programs are targeting first-generation college attenders:
With a careful sequence of courses, including ninth-grade algebra, and attention to skills like note-taking, the early-college high schools accelerate students so that they arrive in college needing less of the remedial work that stalls so many low-income and first-generation students. “When we put kids on a college campus, we see them change totally, because they’re integrated with college students, and they don’t want to look immature,” said Michael Webb, associate vice president of Jobs for the Future.

The article considers it a given that the last year of high school is a waste -- I guess because students have already made plans for college or a career or both, prime conditions for the ailment known as senioritis.  That was certainly not the case with me; I found my senior year very freeing.  I was finished with most of my course requirements, so I was able to choose courses I knew would bring success and enjoyment, like Yearbook and AP English.  I also experimented a bit, taking Anatomy and AP Civics, neither of which interested me beforehand, but both of which proved useful and fascinating studies.  And I finagled an independent study of classical piano, which basically meant I got to continue studying with my private teacher while practicing for a whole period on the school's sadly neglected 9-foot concert grand.  Someday I'll tell you all about that.  Besides, I got to play Liesl in The Sound of Music, I learned how to swing dance, and I had my first real boyfriend.

So I'm a big proponent of senior year productivity, however it can be achieved, and although I still object to the idea that college is for everyone, I can't take issue with an idea that expects a great deal of students out of whom  no one has ever expected much of anything.  I've never seen a study that didn't prove the link between expectations and achievement, and this is no exception: dropouts plummeted from the 38% state average to zero, and one college president said this performance, from a group of completely average kids, was the most exciting development he's seen "in 27 years."  The kids are pumped, too:
“I didn’t want to do it, because my middle school friends weren’t applying,” Ms. Holt said. “I cried, but my mother made me do it.

“The first year, I didn’t like it, because my friends at the regular high school were having pep rallies and actual fun, while I had all this homework. But when I look back at my middle school friends, I see how many of them got pregnant or do drugs or dropped out. And now I’m excited, because I’m a year ahead.”

Good for her.  Good for her mother.  Good for the school, for trying something different.