Thanks to Noel for posting this blog about early college high schools. I hadn’t really ever heard of that specific concept, especially with such a strong collaboration between high schools and colleges in which the last two years of high school are actually college courses on a college campus.
Even though that concept is new to me, I had a similar experience. My last two years of high school were spent at the Mississippi School for Math and Science, located in Columbus, MS on the campus of Mississippi University for Women. I won’t get too deep into the politics of the school, but it is one of those places that constantly struggles to gain funding from legislature and it seems like every year is a real threat that they will shut it down. MSMS is a public, residential high school for academically gifted students in the state of Mississippi. We lived on campus, ate meals at MUW’s cafeteria, and basically were only able to see our parents on the weekends. While my parents lived in Columbus as well, many students were 4-5 hours away from their parents.
As far as the academics go, I think it’s a great idea to have options for gifted students that give them a head start in the college process. I took several AP courses and scored high enough on the test to get credit for several classes. There were also several classes in my curriculum at MSMS that were considered dual enrollment classes which gave me university credit as well as my high school credits. Basically, I technically started college as a sophomore and was able to skip out on most of the freshman level classes.
Here’s the biggest thing that I saw at MSMS – while the classes were indeed challenging, most of the students who left the school chose to go home because they were homesick. Many who failed out of the school were not failing at their home school because they had their support system easily accessible. It’s easy to forget that while academically gifted students are bright, they’re still kids. It isn’t easy to leave home at the age of 16. Even students who can easily take the academic load might find it challenging to uproot like that. MSMS had a very strong support system – the students were extremely close and the faculty/staff really cared about us. Simply having a “strong” support system is not necessarily enough for students.
I think that while early college high schools are a great idea for some students, it’s not a one size fits all problem. It doesn’t replace community colleges either, because community colleges tend to allow students to stay closer to home longer than immediately going to a 4-year university. Overall, while I see the value that such a system can present to us, I think the most important variable in all education is the student. Everyone has different learning styles, support systems, and coping mechanisms. Because of this, it’s vital to have a variety of educational options that meet the needs of each individual.