In today’s job market, applicants need to be higher skilled and better educated in order compete for secure jobs at decent pay. More schools systems are getting the message and offering students a chance to earn some college credit before leaving high school. Numerous so-called “early college” programs have cropped up across Ohio in the last decade, most in conjunction with a nearby public college or university. StateImpact’s Michelle Kanu reports the Cleveland school district is set to open another in the fall, but its partnership with higher education is a little out of the ordinary.
Unlike just about every other higher ed partner in Ohio’s early college programs, Cleveland’s is not close by. It’s not even in the state.
Bard College is 500 miles away, on the banks of the Hudson River in Annandale, New York. The small liberal arts school is already a partner in two early college high schools in New York City, one in Newark, and a fourth in New Orleans.
It connected with Cleveland through the Gund Foundation, and was especially interested in the district’s ongoing reform efforts to offer a variety of schools and boost academic achievement.
Stephen Tremaine is the vice president for Bard’s early college programs and policies.
“The Cleveland Plan, all of the groundwork laid for school reform in Cleveland are things that people here in our communities in New York and elsewhere are talking about,” Tremaine says. “It seems like a good opportunity for Bard to be part of that conversation.”
One reason the college started this endeavor, he says, is to bridge the gap between k-12 and higher education.
“Students in the 12th grade are just months younger than students in the first year of college, but the divisions between these institutions are enormous,” he says. “ And it really no longer makes sense at a time at which we’re more than ever concerned about college access and college readiness in this country, for colleges to not be banging down the doors of public school systems and saying lets work together.”
Cleveland’s new Bard High School Early College will open in what used to be Brooklawn Elementary on Cleveland’s west side. Students will take both high school and college classes there. At the end of four years, they can walk away with up to 60 college credits—the equivalent of an associate’s degree—along with their diploma.
Christine Fowler-Mack, the district’s chief of new school models, says that’s a big deal for the mostly low income students Cleveland serves.
“For many of our students they would be the first in their families to really go to college and then to exit with degrees. Therefore, when you think of it in those terms, they’re really going to be transition figures in their families.”
Fowler-Mack says the school will have more of a college feel. Classes will be more rigorous than in a traditional high school and involve lots of writing. She says the teachers will be Cleveland Schools employees—and members of the Cleveland Teachers Union—who are certified to teach college courses. And they will facilitate classes in more of a seminar discussion style rather than through lectures.
Students have to write a personal statement and interview in order to get in. But Fowler-Mack notes the school isn’t just recruiting students with a 4.0 GPA.
“We’re not just looking to have the total brightest students in our district,” she says. “We’re looking to support all students toward college readiness, so we’re approaching it with more of a diverse population.”
The concept of a private college operating a public high school is not without its challenges.
Dumaine Williams will be the new principal in Cleveland, and is currently the dean of students at the Bard High School Early College in Newark, New Jersey.
When that campus first opened in 2011, he says basic administrative tasks like ordering office supplies and books weren’t so simple. He says it took time just to figure out how a large urban school system operates.
And he says they encountered a hurdle facing school districts around the country: limited financial resources.
“As we go through budget cuts and budget revisions, we had to figure out ways to give the same quality program that we always planned to do, but do that of course at the lowest possible cost to Bard and to the district.”
So exactly how much does a program like this cost?
Stephen Tremaine says Bard is covering $8 million of tuition fees for Cleveland students to attend for free. The school also received some start-up money from the district's investment in new school models, and over a million dollars from the Cleveland and Gund Foundations.
Christine Fowler-Mack says the new campus is a fresh choice in a district where families are searching for quality high school options.
“I think our population, our community is hungry for something different that they will believe to be safe first but that engages students in a very different way of learning.”
So far, Fowler-Mack says Bard is generating a lot of interest. She says the district has already received more than 150 applications to fill the 100 seats available in the freshman class.