How Can Communities Offer High-Quality College-Readiness Curriculum to All Students?

October 2015

Each year, nearly 60 percent of first-year college students require remediation. At the same time, we know that students who need remedial education are less likely to graduate, as remedial coursework requires valuable time and money. It is critical for communities to offer all students high-quality college- readiness curriculum to ease students’ transitions and ensure college success. As early as middle school, students should be provided with the opportunity to take rigorous courses, like advanced mathematics and English, which will put them on track for college.

Underserved students in particular benefit from the academic rigor and high expectations that they encounter in college-level courses. Programs that target adult learners must recognize that they may never have had access to high-quality college- readiness curriculum and offer supports that ease their transition to college coursework.

Collaboration across school districts, postsecondary institutions, and state agencies is essential to establish college- readiness curriculum, and it requires the participation of faculty responsible for high school, remediation, and college-level courses. Below are a few examples of programs that can be used to ensure that all students have access to high-quality college-readiness curriculum.

Dual-Enrollment Programs and Early College High Schools: Does your community want to offer rigorous college-level coursework that enables students to earn college credit prior to enrollment? These programs enable students to earn college credit while still in high school, which not only saves students time and money but also exposes them to the rigors of college- level curriculum. Students enrolled in these programs are more likely to graduate high school, enroll in college, and earn degrees.

Transcript Evaluations Services: Does your community want to help students identify coursework required for college admissions? These programs assess whether students’ high school transcripts align with college entrance requirements, evaluate students’ college preparation, and inform schools and parents of course patterns necessary for admission. Many transcript evaluation programs also employ shared counselors between high schools and higher education institutions in order to streamline the evaluation process.

Alignment Projects: Does your community want to align K–16 curriculum across institutions? These projects build communities of practice among high school teachers and college faculty, allowing educators to gain broader perspectives of student and teacher experiences throughout the K–16 pathway. Encouraging cross-institutional dialogue and aligning curriculum through high school, developmental education, and introductory college-level courses will better prepare students for postsecondary tracks and will decrease the need for remediation upon enrollment.

University Contract Classes: Does your community want to offer adult students the opportunity to take both non-credit and for-credit classes at a local university? These programs provide students who have not matriculated the opportunity to sample university courses, with the goal of introducing college coursework to underserved students, such as adult learners, often at low or no cost.

This chapter features an interview with the president of South Texas College (STC), who shares how a partnership between STC and school districts in the Rio Grande Valley offers high- quality college-readiness curriculum to students through dual enrollment and Early College High School opportunities. We include a sample dual-enrollment agreement from STC to help communities looking to establish such agreements between their high schools and higher education institutions, as well as a sample budget summary to help communities develop a financial infrastructure that supports dual-enrollment programs and Early College High Schools. We also include a unit-sharing protocol that fosters cross-institutional dialogue and builds communities of practice between educators. This chapter ends with a list of additional resources, where you can find more information on offering high-quality college-readiness curriculum to all students.

South Texas College, Rio Grande Valley, Texas: College-Readiness Curriculum through Early College High Schools and Dual Enrollment

  • Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President, South Texas College

IHEP spoke to President Reed about the dual-enrollment partnerships between South Texas College (STC) and local school districts—in particular, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District—in the Rio Grande Valley. Read this interview to learn how STC established Early College High Schools and other programs in the Rio Grande Valley in order to provide local high school students with rigorous, tuition-free, college-level dual-enrollment courses, and how teachers and faculty in the region have embraced the new model to support student success.


IHEP: What initially drove South Texas College to pursue partnerships with local school districts to provide dual- enrollment programs?

South Texas College is a relatively new institution as far as community colleges go. We are 22 years old, and we were established in a region of deep south Texas that previously lacked access to a community college and had very limited access to workforce training. In this region, 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 96 percent of residents are Hispanic. Twenty years ago, nobody was talking about a college-going culture; our motivation and vision was to establish it.

At South Texas College, we knew that to establish a college-going culture in our community, we would need to develop a system that would ensure that college was accessible, affordable, and expected for all. With this goal as our foundation, we set out to develop a dual-enrollment program that would offer quality, tuition-free college-credit-bearing offerings.

To accomplish this goal, we needed to develop strategic community partnerships. Once we had the right partners on board and had established a mechanism for providing dual enrollment without charging tuition, the program took off. We have offered dual-enrollment to high school students for a little over 10 years now. We are making it affordable and possible.


IHEP: How did South Texas College build district-level partnerships to support dual-enrollment programs?

The most important first step was establishing Early College High Schools. South Texas College had the opportunity to access a $1 million grant from the Communities Foundation of Texas to start an Early College High School. We assessed the various high schools in our area, and we believed that Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) Independent School District’s superintendent, Dr. Daniel King, would be most responsive to the idea. We needed a district that would be ready, willing, and able to build this program within a two-to-three-month time frame. Identifying a district leader, like Superintendent King, who would take ownership and commit to making the program happen was key to our success.

PSJA provided the facilities for the first Early College High School, Thomas Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School. The first location was an abandoned residence. Eventually, Dr. King was able to renovate one of the original high schools in his school district to be the home for the school. This new facility is equipped with state-of-the-art science facilities, all designed and modeled after college-level facilities.

Initially, we employed faculty from STC to deliver dual-enrollment courses. Shortly after launching the program, PSJA began hiring teachers with master’s degrees; such teachers were qualified to become adjunct faculty at STC to teach college-level courses. This presented an excellent opportunity for our program to streamline delivery of dual-enrollment courses and at the same time significantly reduced programmatic costs: we could employ high school teachers as adjunct faculty to teach dual-enrollment courses on the high school campuses. We recruited teachers from the district who already had a master’s degree to apply to become adjunct faculty at STC.

South Texas College is the higher education partner for 30 Early College High Schools, with 15 different school districts.

Providing this professional development opportunity to district- level teachers increased our capacity to deliver college-level courses to our district high school students and deepened our partnership with the district.

IHEP: How did STC expand to establish Early College High School partnerships with other districts?

The Early College High School model was designed to serve approximately 400 students, and it targeted first-generation students of color and low-income students. Our goal was to enroll 100 ninth-graders in the first cohort of students. We recruited in the eighth grade and identified 100 students to begin the program as ninth-graders. Families were required to make the final decision regarding whether their students would participate. The mission was to get students college-ready and to offer them dual- enrollment courses by the 10th grade and no later than the 11th. All the Early College High School students are dual-enrollment students, and the expectation is that you will graduate from high school with an associate’s degree or very close to it.

South Texas College is the higher education partner for 30 Early College High Schools, with 15 different school districts. The program has grown so large that many of the early colleges have to use a lottery system because they have more applicants than spaces. Some are accepting more than 100 students, just to accommodate the demand.

The mission was to get students college-ready and to offer them dual-enrollment courses by the 10th grade and no later than the 11th. All the Early College High School students are dual-enrollment students, and the expectation is that you will graduatefrom high school with an associate’s degree or very close to it.

Once other districts saw the benefit and the success of this model, they were eager to participate. Now 15 school districts in the Valley have an Early College High School, and many have two— some even have three. It begins with the dialogue, “Do you want to implement this model? If so, then these are the expectations.” Each district has to be approved by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and designate a partnering postsecondary institution. If TEA approves the Early College High School, we are willing to be their higher education partner, and we are ready to get to work.

When we started Early College High Schools, we thought they would serve as models for innovation and for identifying best practices for redesigning all high schools. We did not intend for them to be standalone entities serving 400 hundred student cohorts; rather, we envisioned them as learning laboratories for improving all high schools and thought that they would be scaled to provide dual-enrollment opportunities to all students.

The model has been so successful with PSJA that Dr. King is taking the next step: he wants to make the entire PSJA district an early college model, meaning that all high school students will have an opportunity to participate in the Early College High School program. He wants to implement the best practices of the model throughout his district, and he’s well on his way to doing it. The district now has multiple, distinct early college designs: a standalone Early College High Schools, an early college school- within-a-school, a STEM-focused school, a comprehensive high school converted into an early college, and specialized early college schools for students who have left school or those who are off track.

IHEP: In what other ways has South Texas College partnered with PSJA to ensure that students successfully transition to college upon completing dual enrollment and Early College High School programs?

PSJA places two high school counselors on the South Texas College campus as “transition specialists.” They serve as the designated points of contact for incoming PSJA students when they transition to South Texas College. The counselors ease the transition to college for PSJA students and have also been able to provide feedback to the district—identifying the challenges that incoming students face. This feedback loop facilitates continuous improvement in the dual-enrollment and early college programming.


IHEP: How did South Texas College identify and develop dual-enrollment courses, and how are the courses evaluated to ensure quality?

Students in Texas are required to receive a college-ready score in reading, writing, and math on a Texas Success Initiative–approved assessment in order to qualify for dual-enrollment courses. If the student receives a college-ready score, then he or she is eligible to take any of the 45 credit hours of core courses that all students attending institutions of higher education in Texas must complete before receiving an associate’s degree. The Common Course Manual developed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board describes the learning outcomes that are expected for each of the core courses that satisfy this requirement.

South Texas College worked closely with PSJA to identify course offerings for dual-enrollment programs. STC then took the lead in designing the course, the content, and the course syllabi to align with the standards set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in the Common Course Manual. We expect rigor, and we expect the adjunct faculty to follow our course syllabi so that we are sure of the content and the quality of the course. STC program chairs evaluate our adjunct faculty to ensure quality instructional practice as well.

IHEP: What role have adjunct faculty from district high schools played in the sustainability of the Early College High School model at South Texas College?

Employing high school teachers as adjunct faculty has been fundamental to our financial sustainability model. To facilitate a tuition-free dual-enrollment program, we have had to waive more than $100 million in tuition over the last 10 years. In terms of dual- enrollment programming, the biggest expense to the college is the cost of faculty. The only way we could do this program was to use a faculty member paid for (for the most part) by the school district. High school teachers who are accepted as STC adjuncts receive a $300–$500 stipend; however, all other costs are covered by the district, which significantly reduces the expense of tuition- free dual-enrollment to STC. If the school district does not have qualified adjunct faculty, STC will send faculty to the high school to teach the course. The school district then reimburses STC for faculty salaries and travel costs.

I would hear our faculty say, 'These are some of our best students. They are so engaged, and they are so committed.' They would say that if they had a choice, they really would prefer to teach the dual-enrollment students.

Employing adjunct faculty from district high schools to deliver dual-enrollment courses at the high school locations has created efficiencies in the course delivery process while continuing to deepen our partnership with the district. We try to integrate our high school adjunct faculty into all aspects of the college environment and instill in them a sense of community and pride in being college faculty members despite their being physically separate from the campus.

He worked with the local university, the University of Texas-Pan American, to offer master’s degree programs at the high school during after- school hours so it would be convenient for the faculty. Everybody was working together to encourage more of our experienced teachers to earn a master’s degree, and it began to spread to other school districts.

IHEP: What challenges did instructors—faculty members from both the high school and the college—face when starting dual-enrollment classes, and how were they handled?

There was a learning curve for both sides. Initially, there was some pushback from our faculty at STC, who hadn’t planned to be teaching at a high school. Then there were some faculty who questioned whether high school students were ready for college- level work. That view dissipated very quickly within a semester or two. I would hear our faculty say, “These are some of our best students. They are so engaged, and they are so committed.” They would say that if they had a choice, they really would prefer to teach the dual-enrollment students.

From the perspective of high school faculty, early college and dual- enrollment courses were now being offered in lieu of Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and that caused a little tension. Many teachers were comfortable teaching their AP courses, but they weren’t qualified to teach a dual-enrollment course because they didn’t have a master’s degree. We have moved beyond that concern.

Dr. King began a big push to hire more faculty with master’s degrees at PSJA. He worked with the local university, the University of Texas-Pan American, to offer master’s degree programs at the high school during after-school hours so it would be convenient for the faculty. Everybody was working together to encourage more of our experienced teachers to earn a master’s degree, and it began to spread to other school districts.

Faculty work through challenges together. We bring all high school adjunct faculty to campus for professional development activities. Our college faculty also learn a great deal from the high school faculty about how to effectively work with high school students. For instance, the chairman of our psychology department is responsible for all college courses—whether they are taught on campus or via dual enrollment—so he has to evaluate the faculty member in the high school for performance, get feedback from students, look at learning outcomes and grade distribution, and help mentor the high school teacher to be a very effective college-level teacher.

IHEP: What additional services, facilitated by South Texas College provide college-level curriculum options for local high school students?

We also offer “academies” in five disciplines that are designed for gifted and talented students. Students are selected on the basis of a competitive application and spend the mornings at their high schools and then the afternoon at STC. By the time they graduate from high school, they have an associate’s degree in engineering, biology, medical sciences, criminal justice, or computer information technology, and they are ready to transfer to the university. There are a variety of pathways for students to participate in dual enrollment. We just started a new model last year as well, with an Early College High School for career and technology students. It is designed for students who want to pursue welding, precision manufacturing, or diesel technology. The industries were selected because of the high demand in our community for these high-wage, high-salaried jobs.


IHEP: How have high school students in the region benefited from the availability of dual-enrollment programming?

The college-going rate has significantly increased in the region. Sixty percent of our high school graduates are going on to college. In PSJA, the percentage of students graduating from high school increased from 62 percent in 2007 to over 90 percent in 2013. In 2014, 58 percent of students had earned some college credits by high school graduation, and 21 percent of high school graduates had earned an associate degree or postsecondary- level certificate.

Increased access to dual-enrollment opportunities has motivated our students to complete high school and pursue postsecondary opportunities. The availability of dual-enrollment programs has also encouraged high schools to establish dropout recovery programs in the Rio Grande Valley that provide students with dual enrollment and career and technical opportunities as a mechanism for motivating completion and postsecondary planning. These programs have served as a way to engage students who we previously lost, and now we are doing a much better job of not losing them in the first place.

Additionally, we compared student performance data of incoming freshman at the University of Texas, Pan-American (UTPA) who had participated in dual enrollment with those of students who had not participated in the program. We found that students who had participated in dual enrollment and who enter UTPA have higher GPAs and are more likely to persist and graduate with degrees than are their peers without any dual enrollment.

Students will absolutely rise to the high expectations we establish for them.

Finally, we hear directly from our students. We have many students who are 18 years old and have already completed two years of college credits. They are going to some major universities and starting as juniors. We ask how they feel about that, and they say, “Well, I’m ready. I’m well prepared. I’m as competitive as anybody else in my class.” Their testimony confirms that students will absolutely rise to the high expectations we establish for them.

IHEP: How is the whole community benefiting from partnerships between K–12 and postsecondary institutions to increase local degree attainment?

Ultimately, the benefit is in preparing more graduates—not only for the needs of the immediate community but also for the nation. In 2010, President Obama called for a 60 percent increase in college graduates by 2020. No school district is going to do this alone, and no higher education institution is going to do this alone. It’s going to take establishing a close relationship between higher education and the public school system to get more students on the pathway to college and to provide support for those students along that pathway to ensure completion.

This work also fits into a larger economic growth and sustainability plan for the region. The economic health of a community depends on the education attainment level of its population. We understand that by having a better-educated population, this region is going to be much more desirable for business. Increased economic prosperity in the area is the ultimate benefit—not to mention the improved quality of life for these students and their families.

PSJA also recently opened three community education centers in former elementary schools, which provide services for students’ parents and other adults in the community. The program offers GED, English as a second language, adult literacy, citizenship, and vocational skills courses. South Texas College faculty teach at these centers at a discounted rate, and services are free to adult students as long as they commit to 10 hours of community service. These high-demand centers currently serve over 2,000 adults.

Looking Forward

IHEP: Do you have any final words of wisdom for communities?

Every state has in place different legislation to govern how the state funds dual enrollment. Some states prohibit dual funding. We are fortunate in Texas that both the school district and the partnering higher education institution are funded. To expand the dual-enrollment program, school districts and higher education institutions are going to have to work very closely with their state’s elected officials to put in place legislation that ensures funding for these opportunities. States are going to have to choose their investments, and I cannot think of a more effective strategy for economic community sustainability than investing in a program that will lead to a reduction in unemployment and poverty, and that will improve the social and economic environments in which many low-income families find themselves. Much of this has to be legislated, but it will not happen unless educators call for that initiative.

Chapter 2 Download


Dual-Enrollment Agreement

An excerpt from South Texas College’s Dual Enrollment Toolkit, this document serves as a template for establishing an agreement between high schools and higher education institutions.

Page length: 2

Dual-Enrollment Sample Budget

Created by Jobs for the Future and the Hidalgo Independent School District, this budget template not only lists potential expenditures associated with creating dual-enrollment programs but also provides estimated costs, comparing proposed budgets to actual budgets.

Page length: 1

Unit-Sharing Protocol

Created by Graduate NYC! for its Curriculum Alignment Project, and adopted by the National Writing Project, the protocol is designed to help K–16 educators work across institutions and curriculum, providing participants with the opportunity to reflect through targeted questions and activities (see last page of document).

Page length: 1

Additional Resources

A Better 9th Grade: Early Results from an Experimental Study of the Early College High School Model (2010: University of North Carolina at Greensboro)

This report examines the results of Early College High Schools established by North Carolina. According to results, these high schools are creating more positive school environments for students, increasing school attendance, reducing suspensions, and increasing the number of students who are on track for college.

A Path to Alignment: Connecting K–12 and Higher Education via the Common Core and the Degree Qualifications Profile (2013: Lumina)

This report discusses how educators could use the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) to align academic goals across high schools and colleges. The DQP creates a framework for postsecondary institutions to broadly identify what a college graduate should know and be able to do across disciplines. This exercise is intended to help educators across both systems understand how to build on the CCSS to improve both student readiness for and success in college.

Dual Credit in U.S. Higher Education: A Study of State Policy and Quality Assurance Practices (2013: Higher Learning Commission)

In light of the significant expansion of dual credits since the 1980s, this report provides policymakers and state officials with an up-to-date description of dual-credit policies in all 50 states. Such policies vary across states with regard to terminology, course oversight, eligibility, and quality assurance. The brief calls for consensus on terminology and the development of cross-state practices that would promote greater transferability of best practices in dual-credit programming.

The Impact of Dual Enrollment on College Degree Attainment: Do Low-SES Students Benefit? (2013: University of Iowa)

The report finds that bachelor degree completion rates for low-income students who had participated in dual enrollment increased by 8 percentage points. Moreover, first-generation students are also more likely to benefit from dual-enrollment participation than are those with a college-educated parent, suggesting that students with college-educated parents are likely to attend college and attain a degree. The majority of the gain was for those who took two courses while participating in dual enrollment. The main elements of institutional strategy in dual-enrollment programs focus on credit-granting agreements and faculty development.

Early College, Continued Success: Early College High School Initiative Impact Study (2014: American Institute for Research)

This study focuses on answering whether Early College High School students have better outcomes than they would have had at other high schools, and whether the impacts of Early Colleges vary by student background characteristics. Through a lottery-based randomized experiment, the study found that Early College students were significantly more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree than were the comparison students. The study also found that these impacts generally did not differ by subgroup, and when the impacts differed, the difference was generally in favor of underrepresented populations.

The Kentucky Model: Business and Education Unite to Prepare Students for College and Career Success (2014: Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives)

Written for policy and business leaders, this report offers suggestions for building business–education collaborations to facilitate and alleviate community concerns over the adoption of new state curriculum standards. The report specifically uses the state of Kentucky as a model, highlighting the partnership between the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Greater Louisville Inc., and the coordinated strategies the partnership developed to respond to the 2010 implementation of the Common Core State Standards.