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Scholar in cap and gown outside Modesto Junior College.

Early college lifts high school students, including those at risk

Alexia Cordova was in eighth grade when she first learned about Aspire Vanguard College Preparatory Academy’s dual enrollment program that allowed high school students to take college classes.

Alexia contacted her high school counselor to see how she could sign up for Modesto Junior College classes. By second semester of her freshman year, Alexia was enrolled in two college courses.

Classes were hard at first — there was more homework, and teachers moved at a faster pace. Alexia took advantage of MJC’s walk-in tutoring center to get extra help and Vanguard College Prep provided financial support to pay for course materials like goggles for her chemistry lab.

Fast forward four years, and Alexia will graduate high school with an associate’s degree from MJC. She will enroll in a four-year university in the fall as a junior and begin pursing a degree in neuroscience.

Studies show that students like Alexia, who participate in high-quality dual-enrollment programs during high school, are more likely to graduate high school, enter college, and graduate with a degree. Students who are most underrepresented in community colleges — young men of color, students from low-income families, and students who are the first in their families to attend college — often benefit the most from dual-enrollment programs.

In summer 2020, the Stanislaus Cradle to Career Partnership hired dual-enrollment experts from Careers Ladder Project to bring local partners — Modesto Junior College, the Stanislaus County Office of Education, and five K-12 districts — together to expand dual-enrollment programs in our region.

We learned that dual enrollment is rapidly growing in Stanislaus County and at MJC, with the number of students taking college courses increasing from 734 high school students in the 2017–18 academic year to almost three times that number in the 2019–20 academic year, with 2,006 high school students.

Yet data suggest that many of these students are already on the college track. If we want to reach underrepresented students, we will need to design more coordinated programs with high schools.

Our vision is that every student will graduate high school with at least 15 college credits. This is a big goal, and to achieve it, we must ensure that local dual-enrollment programs are equitably designed and focused on career pathways that give students an early start on choosing and completing a program of study.

We must also work to strengthen student supports and work-based learning experiences, which requires strong partnerships among colleges, high schools, businesses, and other community institutions.

Our commitment:

  • Stanislaus Community Foundation recently approved $400,000 in new funding for the Cradle to Career Fund to invest in dual-enrollment programs focused on health careers.
  • The Dual Enrollment Blueprint has led education partners to form two work groups focused on implementation as well as data/communications to expand dual-enrollment programs across the county.
  • Aspire Vanguard College Preparatory Academy and Stanislaus County Office of Education’s Valley College High School, alongside MJC, will lead dual-enrollment transformation efforts.
  • MJC will streamline the enrollment process for high school students, improve data sharing and outreach with high school partners, and expand course offerings to align with career pathways.

As a community, we can ask our local school districts to prioritize funding for dual-enrollment programs, which aligns with new federal guidance that calls out dual enrollment as a highly effective strategy for high schools to support college preparation.

We are excited to have a plan in place, resources to back it up, and a cross-sector partnership to hold ourselves accountable to a bold post-secondary vision. And most importantly, to ensure that a story like Alexia’s becomes the rule and not the exception.

Marian Kaanon is president and CEO of Stanislaus Community Foundation, and Scott Kuykendall is superintendent of schools in Stanislaus County. To learn more about the Stanislaus Cradle to Career Partnership, see StanC2C.org