Tupelo High School is finding early success with its Middle College program, which allows participating juniors and seniors to obtain an associates degree from Itawamba Community College at the same time they are finishing their high school degree.
The program is another step in the evolution of high school education in upper-grades. In the Middle College program, students enrolled in the program spend most of their school day taking classes at ICC in Tupelo. At the end of the two year program, successful students graduate from both ICC and THS in separate ceremonies.
If they earn an Associate of Arts degree, they can enter university effectively as a junior. Or they can earn an Associate of Applied Sciences degree, which then gives them valuable education and experience entering specialized job fields.
Either way, the program can give students a boost on their post-high school futures.
Middle College is similar to Advanced Placement (AP) or dual credit programs. AP courses are often more rigorous and require students to score high on a standardized test to earn college credit, but some universities offer added value to AP courses when considering applications. Dual credit programs offer college credit through a partner community college or university, and those credits usually transfer to other institutions.
All three programs provide high school students with the opportunity to gain college credit so they can get ahead on their higher education. It also is more affordable than taking those same classes post-high school at a community college or university, which is important at a time when the cost of college tuition continues to rise.
The potential benefits of these programs to students are obvious, which is why so many schools are seeking to expand their offerings. It’s also why public and private bodies should work together to assist in making such programs available to more students at more schools everywhere.
Like the benefits, the challenges to offering the programs are obvious, too, particularly in more rural areas. Challenges include recruiting and retaining certified personnel, proximity to community colleges, and having enough participating students to justify offering certain course.
We can overcome many of these challenges with technology and ingenuity. Leaders should look at partnerships to create virtual classes – whether AP, dual credit or Middle College – where teachers anywhere can teach students from different schools and districts. Colleges can become more active participants by offering their core course virtually.
Of course, this requires the current expansion of broadband access to not only continue but to remain a top priority for all involved.
But we should not wait for the state to lead on this. Certainly we should encourage our state leaders to support and assist, but there are models out there that can be followed by local districts. Community-minded organizations and businesses should partner with schools to take up this cause and make it a priority.
Providing education and job training to young people is essential for lifelong success. In many ways, it’s the most important thing we can give our young people. Let’s find ways to do more.