CARLOS MARCANO HAS STARTED taking classes at Bristol Community College last year while still a junior in high school. Now a senior at Durfee High School in Fall River, Marcano is taking classes at Bridgewater State University, where he has already been accepted — on a full scholarship — and will study full-time next year after graduating from high school. Plus, he’ll arrive with a semester of credit already under his belt as he pursues a degree in marketing.
It was one of the success stories Governor Charlie Baker heard Monday during a panel discussion with students from Durfee High School who are enrolled in his Early College program. The state’s Early College initiative, which currently has approximately 5,400 students in 50 high schools, allows students to acclimate to the rigors of college work by taking higher education courses while earning credit toward college. a no-cost diploma in the process.
“It’s nothing but success,” Marcano said, enthusiastic in his praise for the program.
“You sing our song here,” said Baker, whose administration has been pushing for the expansion of Early College funding. “It’s a song we’ve been singing for five years on Early College, gradually building a greater sense of possibility in state government. If it were up to me, this stuff would be available in every Massachusetts schools.
It’s not quite on the horizon just yet, but a significant expansion of Early College seems likely. Baker’s 2023 budget proposal calls for a $7.3 million increase in funding for Early College, nearly doubling the program, which would bring its total funding to more than $18 million. The House budget proposal being debated this week calls for $19 million to be split between Early College and a related “dual enrollment” program through which high school students also take college courses.
The expansion push follows research showing that Early College programs can be particularly effective among students from low-income households and homes where they could be the first generation to attend college.
Research published last year by MassINC, the nonpartisan think tank that publishes Commonwealthhave shown that Early College was paying dividends for the first cohorts of Massachusetts high school graduates who took part in the initiative. Early College participants were 38% more likely than their peers to enroll in college immediately after graduating from high school and were 53% more likely to still be enrolled a year later. Research has shown that every dollar invested in Early College funding yields $15 in benefits, in the form of higher lifetime income and well-being.
“Early College has been a game-changer for Fall River and for our scholars,” district superintendent Maria Pontes told Baker.
According to the most recent data from the state Department of Education, only 42% of Fall River’s 2019-2020 high school graduates were enrolled in a college or university. Durfee High is completing its second year of Early College programming, with 135 juniors and seniors enrolled in higher education courses. Next year, the school expects 275 students to enroll in Early College.
Fall River Schools guidance director Andrew Woodward said it’s still early in the district’s experience with the program, but he said there are encouraging signs of “early success.” . Completing the Federal Student Financial Application, or FAFSA, “is a good early indicator of student enrollment” in college after high school, Woodward said. He said 78% of Fall River seniors in the Early College program have completed the FAFSA. The statewide rate is 57%.
The college course experience has also helped some of the Fall River students define their career goals.
“I’ve always loved history, and my first class I took was history, and it didn’t go so well. It was so boring,” said Aiyana Ellis, a junior from Durfee High. “And now I’m on Health 101, and it’s amazing. I always wanted to be a nurse, and now it’s defined.
The Early College Durfee initiative is run in conjunction with OneGoal, a national non-profit organization that offers programs designed to help students from low-income backgrounds earn college degrees. On days when Durfee students aren’t taking college courses through Bristol Community College or Bridgewater State, they come together at OneGoal seminars where instructors focus on things like understanding a college course syllabus , taking notes and planning college applications and finding scholarships.
Several students cited the extra support provided in the Early College program as a key difference between it and AP courses, through which high school students can also earn college credit.
Malachia Nobre, a junior who recently transferred to Fall River from New Bedford High School, said she has a friend at New Bedford High who takes several AP classes but receives no outside help with the demanding curriculum. “It’s just very rigorous but without the support,” she said. Nobre said Durfee’s Early College program was “amazing because I have wonderful teachers who help you and put you on the right track”. (New Bedford High School is one of eight high schools recently approved to launch Early College as part of the state’s expansion of the program.)
Woodward, Fall River’s guidance director, called Early College “the great equalizer” that can make a big difference for students without parents who have attended college as well as black and Hispanic students, learners from English and others whose college attendance rates are not as great as that of their peers. The program allows students to do the work of a typical freshman, “but doing it with a bubble of support around them,” he said.
Marcano, the Durfee eldest, spoke proudly during Monday’s roundtable about his full journey to Bridgewater state, but he said he sometimes had doubts about whether he was ready to respond the requirements of the Early College program.
“At the start of this semester, I had a conversation where I even wanted to get out of the program,” he said, recounting a meeting with Emma Santoro, Durfee’s Early College counselor. “But she convinced me to stay and persevere, and so now I’m here and meeting you guys, and, honestly, that’s a good thing,” Marcano told Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. and the Secretary of Education. Jim Peyser, who joined him at the session. “If you fall behind or have a puncture, you will catch up and cross the finish line with your support. You have people with you.