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August 19, 2015

Should high school students take college courses?


In a region of South Texas with high poverty and low levels of education, one school district offers students a chance at a better future through higher education.

For the past seven years, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District has partnered with a local community college to offer 8,000 high school students free college-level courses, allowing them to graduate with a two-year degree.

Educators say the program not only better prepares students for the rigor of college coursework while saving them money; it also helps them see higher education as an attainable goal.

“Most of these students are first-generation college (students),” said economics professor at South Texas College Oscar Plaza, who participates in the program. “So for them to see that path from the very beginning and make that path visible, I think, is very important.”

Students must juggle their regular course load with classes that require even more work and study time outside of school. This encourages students to work harder in order to meet the higher expectations, according to Joe Vargas of Jobs for the Future.

Critics of the program say some early college students find themselves unprepared for the more advanced junior and senior level classes they find themselves in upon arriving on a college campus.

This year, 500 students in the district graduated with their associate’s degree or certificate. The district hopes that by 2018, 50 percent of its graduating classes will do the same.

Already, 95 percent of those graduating with their associate’s degree have gone on to pursue their bachelor’s.

Warm up questions
  1. What do you plan to do after high school graduation?
  2. What opportunities does college offer?
  3. Why might it be harder to get through college if no one from your family has ever graduated college?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How does earning a two-year degree by high school graduation better prepare a student for college?
  2. What economic incentive is there for students to pursue early college coursework in high school?
  3. What else could be done to help low-income students graduate from college?
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