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A Head Start on College

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Colleges used to target affluent, overachieving high school students with classes designed to give them a jump start on higher education. But more and more schools are now designing early admissions programs for high school students who might otherwise not get a college degree. Sandhills Community College for example, allows students from SandHoke Early College High School to get a diploma and up to two years of college credit in only five years, at no cost. But the program is only open to students whose parents do not have a college degree.

SandHoke is one of 70-early college schools in North Carolina, and the goal of the program is to keep so-called at-risk students from dropping out by bridging the gap between high school and college. “Last year, half our early-college high schools had zero dropouts, and that’s just unprecedented for North Carolina, where only 62 percent of our high school students graduate after four years,” Tony Habit, president of the North Carolina New Schools Project told the New York Times.

Habit is with the nonprofit group spearheading the high school reform in North Carolina. But the idea has spread to California, New York, Texas and other states that see early college as a way to increase the number of college degree holders while also reducing the high school drop out rate. The idea is also backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports the Early College High School Initiative in more than 200 schools across the nation.

“As a nation, we just can’t afford to have students spending four years or more getting through high school, when we all know senior year is a waste,” Hilary Pennington of the Gates Foundation told the newspaper, “then having this swirl between high school and college, when a lot more students get lost, then a two-year degree that takes three or four years, if the student ever completes it at all.”