How does the ECHS model work? Who pays for ECHS?
By incorporating comprehensive student learning and support programs into the design of the program, the ECHS model empowers at-risk students to succeed in college at greater rates than conventional, public school environments. TEA, who governs the designation process, requires that ECHS opportunities be provided to students at no cost. Due in part to lower faculty costs, open enrollment policies, and community-minded outreach missions, community colleges have overwhelmingly led the national ECHS expansion effort, in partnership with school districts. Nationally, 72% of all ECHS partnerships are led by a two-year institution as the post-secondary provider. As part of its commitment to expanding access to higher education and proactively increasing the region’s college readiness rates, the Alamo Colleges currently maintains a free dual credit and ECHS tuition partnership with all 38 of its’ service area school districts. In 2013, the associate degree awarded to each of the students in its ECHS partnerships by the Alamo Colleges was valued at $4,215, not including the cost of the free textbooks also provided to students throughout their four years in the program. In total, the Alamo Colleges provided the 128 students who attained associate degrees while at Travis ECHS and Judson Early College Academy with more than $540,000 in college scholarships in 2013!
Even though ECHS start-up grant funding has declined nationally, community colleges and school districts have found ways to bring early college programs to students using a variety of creative design configurations, to include: on a college campus: stand-alone, school-within-a-school; whole school or district; online; distance learning; and bussing ECHS model variations. Despite funding challenges, the state’s current dual credit policy, whereby school districts are reimbursed for average daily attendance (ADA) and colleges for contact hours, makes implementation of the ECHS model viable for partners. By targeting at-risk students, ECHS is an acceleration strategy that increases productivity of both taxpayer investments in education and the education system. However, the ECHS model is not without its challenges, and secondary and post-secondary partners should enter into ECHS arrangements with the understanding that student performance outcomes can vary significantly, depending on the configuration of the model pursued and the ongoing level of commitment to the partnership from all parties.
To increase access to early college programs, the Alamo Colleges works with school districts to allow qualified high school teachers to become adjunct faculty of its five colleges, offering stipends and other incentives to school districts that professionally develop or hire teachers who are board-approved to teach dual credit. The Alamo Colleges also offers online dual credit formats that provide students with college courses in the convenience of their high school classrooms.
To build upon the proven performance outcomes of the ECHS model, the Alamo Colleges is currently partnering with four ISDs and two open enrollment charter school districts, including Harlandale ISD, Seguin ISD, and New Frontiers Charter district, to potentially establish six additional ECHS’s in the 2014 – 2015 school year. Furthermore, the Alamo Colleges’ third ECHS, Memorial ECHS, is on target to graduate its first class of students from Comal ISD in May of 2014.
The Alamo Colleges remains committed to growing K-12 partnerships, and will continue to embrace bold and innovative solutions to our community's educational challenges. With local, state, and national higher education attainment rates at alarming levels, ECHS is an evidence-based education reform initiative that deserves support for expansion throughout San Antonio and the South Texas region.
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