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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Academics & Research

High school graduates enter college as juniors

The majority of the nation’s college students are failing to graduate within four years — those at the University of Houston included — but there appears to be a small but rapidly emerging subgroup of students who could graduate with a bachelor’s degree in as little as two years.

Communication junior Becky Ho is one of a growing handful of UH students who, by attending an early college high school, has earned enough credits to classify as a junior upon enrollment, despite having just graduated high school.

“I know some high schools offer dual-credit classes, but only early college high schools can actually give you a full two-year head start,” Ho said.

“To be a junior at 18, it feels pretty good. With all the money saved, it definitely feels as if a lot of pressure has been lifted off my shoulders.”

She attended East Early College High School, a charter school within Houston Independent School District that allows students to take dual-credit classes for free in conjunction with Houston Community College and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to the school’s website, the goal is to provide underrepresented youth with the opportunity to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an associate degree. Though the program was originally structured to last five years, finishing in four has become common among most students.

Opened in 2006, East Early College’s first class graduated in 2010; 77 percent of those who graduated also received an associate degree. Similar Houston-based high schools include Challenge Early College High School and Eastwood Academy.

However, the option to fast-forward two years could have potential setbacks. With most core classes out of the picture, a student would primarily focus on what some see as the more difficult, major-specific courses.

Rather than being able to balance the difficulty of courses throughout four years like traditional college students, early college goers are often left with a limited course variety, commonly resulting in tougher schedules.

The sudden increase in workload could prove detrimental to those not adequately prepared to handle the rigors of a four-year institution.

Finance senior Lien Quach, a 2010 graduate of East Early College, felt that while the early college experience had advantages, such as free tuition, being thrust into upper-level courses immediately after leaving high school could be overwhelming for some.

“I don’t think everyone is ready for it. Some can’t adjust, and I’ve known a few people who are currently taking breaks from school because of having a bad first year,” Quach said.

“And if you don’t know exactly what you want to major in, then you’re kind of stuck. That’s what happened to me, I was sort of undecided and ended up switching majors, so now I’m probably going to graduate in three years instead of two.”

Socializing with new, older classmates could also present challenges. Because of the age gap, younger students might feel less willing to participate in class or join study groups. Additionally, because their college careers are being condensed, some may think their college experience falls a bit short.

“In discussions, I didn’t talk much because I felt my input wouldn’t be near the significance of others’. I think being out of my age group affected me in the sense that I wasn’t able to experience a real freshman year of college like regular students (when) everyone is new to the school. You’re kind of on your own,” said business senior Luis Flores, who graduated from East Early College in 2010.

The relatively new early college approach has spawned successful results thus far. According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost 92 percent of early college high school students graduated from four-year universities since 2009.

“Yeah, you may crave a traditional college life, but despite the negatives, it’s worth it in the long run. When it comes down to it, it’s basically a 50 percent discount off of a four-year college education. With tuition soaring the way it is, I can sacrifice that,” Flores said.

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