Generally, when we consider the concept of early-college students, it involves high school kids who have demonstrated academic potential for college courses, usually in a dual credit environment. Critics, however, are quick to allege that this involves "cherry-picking" the best students who would have succeeded anyway.
However, as pointed out by Katherine Mangan in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a new program in South Texas is recruiting high school dropouts for enrollment in college programs. The article profiles South Texas College and area school districts that have managed to do a different sort of picking. One of the students discussed in the piece is deeply involved in the school's welding program—a hot field these days due to the boom in the energy industry.
Typically students who drop out don't want to go "back" to high school, for a variety of reasons. But they are often happy to go forward in a totally new environment. With small classes and active individual recruitment, the costs are undoubtedly high. Private foundations are helping, however, according to the piece. The STC program certainly looks promising.
From the article:
The College, Career, and Technology Academy is run by the sprawling Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District and South Texas College, a two-year institution in nearby McAllen. The academy is housed in a converted Wal-Mart, tucked behind a pawnshop and easy to overlook in this rapidly growing city 10 miles from the Mexican border. Inside, gleaming white walls are adorned with college banners and displays of student projects and graduation photos.
The school itself is a national showcase for a dropout-recovery effort that has helped this school district graduate more than 1,000 off-track students since 2007, many with college credentials. The idea is to extend early-college experiences, typically geared toward high achievers, to dropouts. Rather than send them back to schools lacking sufficient resources, the model is designed to catch students up on high-school work and, when they're ready, propel them into dual-enrollment courses.
Each May here in South Texas, the district's nine high schools release the names of students whose graduation prospects look bleak. Teachers and volunteers go door to door, making pitches for the program. Billboards urge any student who hasn't finished high school to "Start College Today!"
The academy transports wary recruits to an orientation, where they hear about college degree and certificate programs and can sign up for the free courses.