By Ryan Velez
In recent years, many schools across the U.S. are beginning to open up to the idea of allowing teens access to college classes while they are still in high school. The idea behind this is that it will help allow for an easier transition into higher education. However, while many schools are just coming around, Black Enterprise calls attention to one institution that has been doing it for over 50 years and is looking to forge new ground in this area once again.
Simon’s Rock is a small private school in West Barrington, MA, a town best known for being the birthplace of W.E.B. DuBois. Affiliated with Bard College since 1979, the school is a full-time, four-year, accredited institution. What sets it apart is that it is specifically designed for students who are ready to start college after two or three years of high school. Interestingly, even though other schools are beginning to hop on the early college train, Simon’s Rock is standing apart, mainly for its emphasis on a liberal arts education. Many cities and states considering early college programs now are doing so with an emphasis on vocational skills.
“Nobody ever wants to have dual-enrollment programs that have any kind of liberal arts or humanities emphasis,” explains Tony Carnevale, the head of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. “They just don’t.” For example, in Houston, programs are designed to get students involved in welding and similar activities, driven by workplace demand. Some critics of this practice, like Ruth Lopez Turley, the director of the Houston Education Research Consortium, believe that these programs draw in lower-income students of color who could succeed in a four-year college environment.
Enter Bard College and its changing approach to an early college education. This is espoused by the Bard Early College network, designed to export the liberal-arts-focused model to public-school students across the country. The aim of this concept is to give the similar rigors of the Simon’s Rock program, while still being accessible for thousands of public school students. While they are clear in mentioning that these programs will not be for everyone, admission is not based on traditional indicators, like past academic success. Students instead take a writing assessment and sit for interviews. The idea is to draw in kids who are academically curious, even if they do not have the best resources. In time, the goal will be to prove that a quality early college model is scalable, potentially providing a new way to lower the achievement gap.