Conventional wisdom says college is for students who've graduated from high school. Period. Today, that conventional wisdom seems to be fading away. Dual credit courses in high schools give students a head start on college classes.
High school students, with the approval of their schools, now can enroll in college-level classes. The success of these programs is well documented. High school students with the appropriate aptitudes are intellectually challenged while gaining experience in college-level work. For the most part, high schools have embraced the idea of providing college courses to high school students ready for the rigor.
There's another concept that's emerging across the country; it's a different kind of partnership with high schools. It's called "early college" or "middle college." Middle colleges allow high school students to be seen as college students and to complete their high school years with a college education.
Middle colleges consist of a body of high school students that can benefit from college work and are typically located on a college campus. Faculty and students are integrated into the regular college routine. The high school district and the college share resources and facilities and coordinate schedules and calendars. Additionally, the high school and college have some overlapping areas of governance.
Many of these entities have collaborative instructional teams made up of high school instructors and college faculty. These teams work together to create programs and curricula that meet the needs of the students. Generally speaking, high school students spend four or five years in middle college. At the end of that term, students have both a high school diploma and an Associates degree, consisting of two years' worth of transferable college credit.
Middle colleges are designed to set high standards for all students. Strong reading and critical thinking skills are expected from the students. Learning experiences in middle college are designed to be meaningful and to relate to the students' life experience. Diversity in the student body is key to an enriching educational experience.
The middle college creates small learning communities of students and faculty where teachers act as both counselors and instructors and student assessment is ongoing. Class sizes are intentionally kept small so students may benefit from intense academic interaction. Students often work with the same instructors over a long period of time, rather than just for one year or one semester.
Middle colleges are a reality on college campuses in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and a multitude of sites across the U.S. The Middle College National Consortium currently has 26 members. While ICC already has an alternative high school on campus, it isn't organized as a true middle college. Can ICC's high school become a middle college? Should it? That remains to be seen, but the idea is certainly one worth investigating with the high schools in ICC's district. IBI