A star is born

Rising early college constellations
By: | Issue: December, 2018
November 9, 2018

This is the second in a trilogy of commentaries on rising Early College Stars. Our focus this month highlights successful Early College best practice case studies that optimize Early College aspiration, preparedness, and achievement.

School Superintendents tell us that Early College preparedness promotes high school academic success and self-confidence. Not surprisingly, the intellectual curiosity and maturity of these early college-bound high school students expands because of this exposure.

We observed that best practice Early College programs offer several parallel tracks through dual and concurrent enrollment, online courses,  multi-campus video linkages and social media streaming, and importantly, in real-time classroom instruction as well. These several Early College delivery systems allow for one course to generate both college and high school credit.

What we learned from our Early College campus visits is that one size does not fit all. The best programs have been customized, and in some cases, individualized.

Clearly, the best Early College programs share a common orientation in up-front investment and planning.

It is equally clear that the best programs are those where both the college and the high school have skin in the game — read as demonstrating institutional commitment to Early College planning and faculty development.

The best Early College programs are coordinated and driven by unmet educational need, enrollment demand, and career growth potential. These pre-planning research efforts typically involve focus groups and field interviews; demographics, admissions and career placement data analytics; and Early College experience and informed intuition.

Salem State

As we write this commentary on the evening of Halloween, we scanned the Early College Coast line and discovered some remarkable models of innovation and success.

Apropos of this Halloween celebration, we start our Early College campus tour in the historic maritime City of Salem, Massachusetts – proud home of Salem State University and sometimes nicknamed the City of Witches.

On our first tour, we learned that Salem State proactively and creatively partnered with the Salem Public Schools to create Early College pathways for Salem students. Early on in the process, students have an opportunity to complete the assessment and placement process, and significantly, select high demand career tracks in emerging growth fields like Healthcare and Business Information Technology.

Salem State successfully earned the State’s designation as an Early College model based on its holistic approach to college and career readiness. Toward this end, Salem State won a $140,000 grant to fund its Early College partnership.

“I am very excited that Salem Public Schools will be partnering with Salem State University on this innovative college readiness initiative,” says Salem Mayor and School Committee Chair Kim Driscoll. “Being prepared to succeed in college is one of the key goals of the school district’s strategic plan and drives many of our efforts at Salem High School, and even in our younger grades. By giving fifty high school students a chance to go through the higher education experience early through the Forten Scholars Program, we will not only better prepare them for college academically, we can help instill in them a value and appreciation for achieving a college level education.”

Northern Essex Community College

The next stop on our Early College tour is Northern Essex Community College. With campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence, Northern Essex stands out as a beacon of Early College best practice on the historic North Shore of the Bay State.

Our Northern Essex tour takes us to Amesbury — where Northern Essex received a $100,000 legislative appropriation for supporting and renewing its Early College programs and faculty resources at Amesbury High School.

“It is wonderful that the state has supported this program,” says Northern Essex President Lane Glenn. “And of course, what all of us are looking for is a predictable, sustainable model of support for these programs. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as well as the Department of Higher Education have made Early College a priority and there have been these Early College designation processes happening all over the state.

Representative Jim Kelcourse cited Northern Essex President Lane Glenn’s daughter, Thomasina Glenn as an excellent example of the Early College program at work. “She received an associate’s degree from NECC two weeks before her high school graduation,” Kelcourse says. “She is an impressive young lady and the model for a program like this. She has really taken advantage of this program and will now go on to college and be able to graduate with a four-year degree much earlier than some students who typically go on and pursue four years of studies right out of high school.”

Importantly, Northern Essex Early College programs save students a significant share of the tuition burden, thereby increasing the likelihood of timely completion.

James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Samels is president and CEO of

The Education Alliance.