Early College High Schools heading to PAC

By Clayton Hendry
Pulse Staff Reporter

Early College
New Early College High School program offered to Harlandale and Somerset I.S.D, along with other south San Antonio School Districts. The program provides high school students opportunity to gain college credit at Palo Alto College, starting fall of 2014.
Graphic provided by alamo.edu

Palo Alto College is partnering with Harlandale, Southside, Somerset, Lytle, Poteet and Southwest independent school districts as well as New Frontiers Charter School to offer early college high school program for future students by Fall 2014.

This is not a dual-credit program.  With dual credit, high school students start earning college credit in their junior year.  Currently, Palo Alto has dual credit classes in more than 20 area high schools. With the Early College High School program, students start college classes as early as their freshman year. “The ultimate goal of the early college program is for higher access to education and to remove the financial burden,” said Abel Gonzales, director of Palo Alto College’s ECHS program.

The ECHS is not for every student, but it is a good match for teenagers who are graduating junior high. St. Philip’s College, San Antonio College and Northeast Lakeview College have already started early college programs.  Palo Alto will have the first early college in San Antonio to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics to students enrolled in high school.

“Overall I think it will be beneficial for students to complete the courses without the financial burden, so long as they are getting the additional support and assistance in succeeding college,” said Alex Garza, a sophomore CIS major, who works at the college bookstore.

Harlandale and other partnering districts are holding recruitment sessions for eighth graders, while sixth and seventh graders are given a heads up about the ECHS.  In Fall 2014, eighth graders will start college classes before setting foot on a college or university campus.

“From a perspective of a public image, it’s important for the institution to partner with surrounding ISD’s to insure that all students within our community are geared to success,” said Jerry Arellano, director of Public Relations.

The program is free of charge and qualifications are standard. Students take a skill-level test as an only requirement. Students enroll in classes, depending on how they scored on the test. The test determines qualifications that are needed to complete the work. The ECHS program selects students based on assessment scores. So long as these conditions are met, high school freshmen can start the ECHS and begin college early.

These classes won’t be too different. In fact, students will take the same classes as college students. The only different classes the high school students will take are the classes within the ECHS program.

With the ECHS, eighth graders earn an associate’s degree in the time it takes to earn a high school diploma.  It creates opportunity for high school freshmen to experience college life without the burden of tuition or tapping into financial aid.  Once in the program, students sign up for a degree plan that fits their needs.

“Early college is truly an exciting endeavor that we are able to put together and make it happen. I’m excited that we are proving educational opportunities to not only our perspective students, but our community.” said Robert Garza, vice president of Student Success at Palo Alto College.

Gonzales and Garza are working closely together in setting up the ECHS. Gonzales will act as the director. ECHS. It’s his job to set up the system for those who are entering in the program.

Garza provides the support services for the students so they can be successful. He, along with other teachers and counselors, guides students through the processes of admission, advisement and keeping them on the right track.

“This is a program to help freshmen graduate with a high school diploma in one hand and a associate’s degree in the other,” said Gonzales.