UNT receives $1.8 million grant to create early college high schools

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- The University of North Texas received a $1.8 million grant from the Communities Foundation of Texas to create three "early college high schools" in Dallas and Fort Worth, the first such schools in North Texas to help students who are underrepresented on college campuses make a smooth transition to higher education.

Early college high schools are located on college campuses and blend high school curriculum with college coursework. They allow students to complete a high school diploma and a two-year college degree within four or five years. Two of the three early college high schools will open this fall, and the third will open in fall 2007.

Funding from the Communities Foundation of Texas will enable UNT to support and monitor the progress of the early college high schools and includes a three-year subcontract to each school as it shapes programs to meet the needs of area students. The project is funded by an alliance of organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

The early college high schools will serve students who have not had access to academic preparation needed to meet college readiness standards, those for whom college is cost-prohibitive, minority students, those whose primary language is not English and students who are the first generation in their families to attend college. Students enter the early college high school in ninth grade and start college work based on their performance.

"We want to express our gratitude to the Communities Foundation of Texas," said Dr. V. Barbara Bush, UNT assistant professor of higher education and principal investigator of the grant. "With the early college high sc hool grant, the foundation is providing an incomparable opportunity for students in the Dallas–Fort Worth area who might never have pursued a college degree."

UNT is forming the North Texas Early College Consortium by working with the:

  • Dallas Independent School District to open an early college high school at Mountain View College in the Dallas County Community College District in fall 2006;
  • Carrollton Farmers Branch Independent School District to open an early college high school at Brookhaven College in the Dallas County Community College District in fall 2006; and
  • Fort Worth Independent School District to open an early college high school at Tarrant County College's new campus in downtown Fort Worth in fall 2007.

"The students we want to attract are those who would not otherwise have the opportunity to go to college," said Dr. Mary Harris, interim chair and professor of the UNT Department of Teacher Education and Administration and co-principal investigator of the grant. "Once they are convinced to try this, the dropout rate from early college high schools is very low because it builds its own excitement for learning in that environment."

Each early college high school enrolls a maximum of about 400 students, keeping a low teacher-student ratio and exposing students to challenging coursework.

"This is for students looking for an environment that will be different from the normal high school environment," Bush said. "It will be a culture within itself."

Early college high schools often have academic themes, preparing students for particular careers. The first three early college high schools in Dallas and Fort Worth will focus on attracting students who are interested in careers in teaching and health services -- areas with a high demand for new professionals.

"The first year is taught mainly by high school teachers, and the last year is taught almost exclusively by college teachers," Harris said. "It's a gradual transition."

Adriana Gomez, currently principal of Farmers Branch Elementary, was recently named principal of the early college high school opening this fall at Brookhaven College. With 20 years of experience as a principal in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district, Gomez is now recruiting eighth-graders to participate in the early college high school.

"I think we have to provide a system for students to really believe they can go to college, and a system for parents to understand the value of graduating from high school and going on to postsecondary education," she said. "My goal will be that we recruit the students who want to be there and we keep them through the four years or five years that it takes to complete a high school diploma and receive an associate's degree."

The Early College High School Initiative, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, reports that 71 early college high schools were open around the nation in September 2005, with 11,879 students enrolled. The Gates Foundation anticipates establishing 166 early college high schools by 2011, and serving about 66,400 students by 2012.

As an intermediary in the project, UNT will provide professional development seminars for principals, faculty and student development staff of the early college high schools; document results; advocate for policy support; and develop accountability systems.

The state has five other early college high schools -- two in Houston and three in San Antonio. A middle college high school -- a similar concept -- opened in 2005 at El Centro College in Dallas.

The Communities Foundation of Texas is a public charity and one of the nation's largest community foundations.

For more information about the North Texas Early College Initiative, contact Dr. Mary Harris at (940) 565-4327 or harris@coe.unt.edu or Dr. V. Barbara Bush at (940) 565-4288 or bbush@coe.unt.edu.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108