Despite having been the sort of kid whose Barbies went to college rather than getting married and living in a pink mansion and the teenager who took the ACTs multiple times in an effort to improve my score, things didn’t turn out quite like I imagined. I went away to Ohio University – four hours from my home town of Cincinnati – the autumn after graduating fifth in my high school class and I lasted one week before I was begging to come home.
You can imagine, I hope, how defeated I felt, how confused, how uncertain about my future. I had been a good student who loved learning, but as a first generation college student from a rural high school with limited resources, I didn’t have the support I needed to make smart choices about my college experience.
So when I had the opportunity to visit two KnowledgeWorks early college high schools in Canton and Akron, Ohio, to see a learning community not unlike mine growing up embracing a new approach to earning college credit and really holding every learner to the highest expectations, I seized it. And marveled at what I saw.
Hearing the students of Timken Early College High School and Akron Early College High School didn’t remind me of being in high school again, but of conversations I’d had years later, in college, about how to study, how to create a support group with fellow students and teachers, how to learn to work independently. Everyone I had the privilege of speaking with was so focused on student success I’m not surprised by the data coming out of these schools: in Akron, 2012 graduates earned nearly $450,000 in scholarships, and in Canton, 67 percent of 2015 graduates did so with not one but two associate’s degrees.
Students talked about their futures with conviction, foresight, and practicality.
They talked about hard work and big payoffs, about having been given an opportunity they knew was special, one that they should never take for granted.
And teachers talked about not only their students’ academic drive, but also the critical soft skills they were learning to prepare them for success in college and in life:
and most important of all, learning when to ask for help
When early college graduates go away to college, they’re ready. Because they’ve done it before.
Everything worked out for me in the end. I worked full-time for a year and went to school the following autumn. Eventually, I earned not only my bachelor’s degree, but my master’s degree, too. But where the students of Canton, Akron, and other early college high schools get a head start, I got a late start. And while I’d never wish myself back to high school, the early college experience is one that’s hard not to want.
Because no student who is ready, who wants it, should ever have to wait for college.