Is Money Wasted by Giving Kids a Taste of College?

The need for hard-to-find talent has some of America’s best companies getting involved in high school education. A former client, now senior executive at General Mills, nailed the problem. “If we don’t build relationships at high school level, another major firm (Target or Best Buy) will steal some of our best potential talent,” she said. Business support and pushing of talent development, even at the pre-college levels, will more and more become a key strategic necessity for American companies. Talent development in K – 12 will take many different forms. 

What top researchers in Minnesota have found is that just a “taste of college” can boost high school student success, providing more opportunity for building our talent base.  

The program, emphasizing dual credit in high school and college, has been pushed by Joe Nathan, one of America’s most respected educationists, who specializes in inner city education. Nathan, formerly of the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, now runs research out of the Center for School Change at Macalester College.  Nathan believes that if we can develop a sense of “I belong here. I understand this world,” through dual credit classes for poor and minority students, we can keep kids who might otherwise leave school. The growth through advance placement classes, International Baccalaureate programs, or dual credit classes (taught by college profs in high school), has shown surprisingly significant results in developing potential talent.

The report recommends that “dual credit” courses be available to younger and perhaps the less academically successful.  It also notes that a study of New York and Florida students revealed that dual credit programs demonstrated an “ability to raise the achievement of students not traditionally seen as successful in high school”—low income and low-achieving students.

Participation increased from 17,581 in 2007-2008 to 21,184 in 2009-2010. That’s a huge change in a state will little over 60,000 public high school graduates per year.

The program offers a number of significant advantages to both students and families.

  • Students can earn a two-year associates degree while enrolled in high school.
  • The programs, paid for by the various school districts, are free.
  • It keeps some of the kids in school who might otherwise drop out.
  • Students and parents can save as much as $40,000 on a four-year degree.
  • Provides lower income and minority students a better understanding of school options.
  • Provides students with a clearer understand of life goals.
  • Makes for a far easier transition for students from high school to college.
  • Makes it possible for those who do not see themselves at college to complete relevant certificate programs.
  • Studies from several states show that students who take college courses in high school fare better in college.

At first glance, “dual credit” programs may sound like just another flaky educational idea, but, as the statistics above demonstrate, longitudinal research strongly supports Nathan’s ideas. If you’ve been around inner city kids, you know that it’s their attitudes that get in the way of motivation and prevent them from achieving. And what Nathan’s program does is to focus on those attitudes, and provide constructive opportunities to impact the students’ learning context.

Extensive research by Carol Dweck and her associates at Stanford has consistently shown that students with a growth mindset—a fundamental attitude–do better in school. Moreover, the research demonstrates that the growth mindset raises motivation and achievement, especially in difficult courses or across difficult school transitions. Though faculty may not label or talk about the dual credit experience as a “growth mindset,” that’s exactly what the experience can provide for students.

Though I grew up in a family with college background, I have never forgotten how important my trips to the University of Michigan with our high school choir were. Years later, I can still see myself on that magnificent campus, talking to recent grads from my own high school. I recognize that those experiences were a piece of my drive for higher education. They impacted my attitudes and served to motivate me as strongly as anything anyone could say.

Sure, I know that what works in Minnesota, Massachusetts or Michigan in the 1940s, may not work–because of resources–in Nevada, New Mexico or Alabama today. If you’ve lived and worked in several different parts of the country, you know that state cultures and state resources differ profoundly. That’s why smart thinkers in the US Department of Education are encouraging individual states to figure out what works locally, experiment with it, create a pilot program, tweak it, and when successful, celebrate and publicize the stuff. The “dual credit” program is one such successful strategy for developing talent. It’s actually quite amazing that just a “taste of college” can boost student success.


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