High schoolers get early college credit with early college program

Georgia State’s Early College Program gives high school students a chance to gain two years of college credit before they graduate high school. The program recently celebrated 10 years of providing underrepresented, lower income students a chance to get a head start in their college education.

In only 10 years, the program has hosted more than 550 students, with 90 percent of those students continuing on to pursue bachelor’s degrees. Associate Director of Early College, Tene Davis, said cooperation with the high schools and parents bolsters the program’s success.

“From day one, when the kids come from ninth grade, they know in two years they have to be prepared to go to college. So [the high schools] start preparing them from there,” Davis said.

Georgia State only pulls students from Early College high schools like Carver Early College, Booker T. Washington and new partners, including Drew Charter High School. This sets the program apart from dual enrollment, another program which allows high school students to start college early, but doesn’t discriminate between which schools to pull from.

Davis explained the importance of Early College seeking out students that are high performers but underserved in the educational system.

“A lot of times with dual enrollment, students [that participate] are at the top of their class, most of [Early College] students come from middle schools that don’t necessarily have the best reputation of scholastic achievement and so they have to work extra hard in high school and extra hard when they come [to Georgia State],” Davis said.

According to Davis, Early College is more hands-on than dual enrollment. To ensure student success, Early College liaison Cedrick Dortch starts working with the students from ninth grade and onward.

“During the Spring semester I teach a class called College Prep and make sure that they’re on track to understand what they’re getting into and make sure they’ll be ready for their junior [and] senior year in Early College,” Dortch said.

Dortch said that this helps the students maintain a college mindset. She believes that as ninth graders, students need to be prepared to face the workload that is quintessential to the college experience.  

“We try to form a program that almost prevents failure. At the end [of the program] most of [the students] have graduated with twenty-four [college] credit hours and it’s not even an option of whether or not you’re going to college,” Davis said.

Davis made clear that despite the program’s ability to keep students in college, it is not a result of a lenient learning environment. The students are consistently challenged; if the students start making anything less than a B in their classes, they run the risk of being sent back to high school. The students are held accountable for their actions while attending Georgia State.

“Nothing is given to these children. They don’t come here to make Cs, if they don’t make their 2.0 they’re going back to the high school. When they come down here they have to be ready to fulfill the requirements of the program,” Davis said.

For the future of the program, Davis said she wants the program to garner more attention. Davis confirmed that although the program as of yet has not had any official case of disability with their students, some students have informally confessed that they have dyslexia. Davis pointed out that Early College is making accommodations for students with disabilities.   

“We have a new policy that will allow the high schools to feel more comfortable with sending students [to Georgia State] with identified disabilities, that just started this semester,” Davis said.

Gwendolyn Benson, Associate Dean for the school, community and international partnerships department at the College of Education, first brought Early College to the university in 2005. Benson said that she wants Early College students to gain skills in communication with university faculty members. She made this a concern because some students don’t always get help when they need it.

“Sometimes students don’t know that they need help until it’s too late in the course. What i’m hoping for is that when they leave to another university to complete their additional years, they know they can get support and that they don’t hesitate and think that support is an embarrassing thing,” Benson said.

According to Benson, the program has led to its participants graduating both high school and college and maintaining fulfilling careers.
“This program is making a great contribution to urban youth and Atlanta Public Schools. The only downside is that we can’t take more students from more schools,” Benson said.