The Role of a College Liaison to an Early College

Topics: Early College High School, Education Policy, ESSA

College liaisons, like Dennis Trenger at Stark State College, break through the walls of those silos between higher education and high school. Secondary and post-secondary education often operate in very distinct silos that don’t interact. It’s the job of people like Dennis Trenger, the Director of Academic Outreach and Early College High School for Stark State College, to break through the walls of those silos.

Why is a College Liaison Important?

Dennis has been a liaison between Stark State College and Timken Early College High School for ten years and he will tell you that roles like his are integral to the success of the early college partnerships. This isn’t boasting. Rather, he is acknowledging the difficulties that naturally arise when you try to join two disparate systems.

“You are advocating for students, faculty and parents and you are working with leadership from both sides,” said Dennis. “If that piece isn’t solid, the early college high school and higher education relationship won’t work as effectively as possible.”

Facilitating the sharing of information and resources is important, but the most gratifying part of the job is working with the students.

“Watching students progress from when they come in as eighth graders that have so many challenges,” explained Dennis. “It’s exciting to watch as they grow as students and as people.”

Every single student enrolled in Timken Early College High School is earning college credit, and at a rate significantly higher than the national average.  67 percent of the graduating class of 2015 graduated with not one but two associate degrees. For those students who earn an associate degree, Dennis is part of the college ceremonies honoring the accomplishment.

“The principal and I are at the end of the stairs to hug them and get our picture taken with them and give them their diploma,” he said. “It’s like the end of this long journey that we’ve been on with them.”

For Dennis, that makes every battle fought, every meeting, all the paperwork, the long hours very worth it.

He’s quick to point out, however, that he celebrates the successes of all early college students, and not only those who earn their degree. “Some of the kids don’t earn an associate degree. We still celebrate what they accomplished and map out where they’re going to go,” he said. “What’s your passion? Where do you want to go? How can I help you? Just because you’re graduating from early college, our relationship continues on. Those relationships that you form, they touch you.”

The role of the college liaison is important. Critical even. But ultimately it’s all about the students and where they can go. “Everyone’s pathway can be a little different,” said Dennis. “How can we facilitate and maximize their potential?”

Five Functions of College Liaison

Looking at his own role as a liaison to Timken Early College High School, Dennis outlines five major functions of a college liaison:

  1. Manage the relationship between higher education partners and the high school. Advocate for the early college to the higher education partner and help navigate the higher education culture.
  2. Convene, at least quarterly, a collaboration (design) team to refine a learning plan for students that seamlessly integrates high school and postsecondary education. Ensure collaboration from all parties to help create a positive learning culture. This doesn’t happen always naturally, but once the process is started, it’s easier to continue.
  3. Coordinate resources to achieve school goals. Help ensure that things outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding actually occur.
  4. Work closely with the college academic departments to Identify and recruit appropriate higher education teaching staff. It is critical to foster a team approach focused on student success.
  5. Work with student services to facilitate early college high school student enrollment in higher education classes and make sure the necessary support systems are in place.

canton-timken-early-college-profile-th Read more about Timken Early College High School in this case study.