A Case Study Of An Early College High School: Students' Perceptions Of The Benefits And Challenges Experienced While Attending An Early College High School And Factors Influencing Program Completion

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Nationwide, there has been an enormous amount of attention paid to the importance of college readiness for high school students. The Early College High School Program was created to address the problems of low college enrollment and students’ lack of preparation for college. The targeted population includes low income youth, English language learners, first-generation college goers, students of color, and other young people underrepresented in higher education. In 2004, Educate Texas made a proposal to open 15 early college high schools in Texas. According to the Texas Education Agency, 44 new early college high schools opened during the 2014-15 school year. Since its launch in 2002, some of the early college high schools surcease.

Participation in an early college high school program comes with benefits and challenges, both of which affect the success of students completing the program with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. Despite the promise of Early College High Schools, only 23.3 % of the graduates earned an associate’s degree or technical certificate and 77% of the graduates attended some form of postsecondary education in 2010. The purpose of this study was to examine high school students’ perceptions regarding an early college high school. Specifically, this study explored students’ perceptions of the benefits and challenges experienced while attending an early college high school, and the factors influencing program completion. Strategies that are perceived to contribute to students’ success in remaining in the program and graduating with an associate’s degree were also examined.

A purposeful sample of 28 students from one Early College High School in the Houston metropolitan area was selected to participate in this study to learn about their perceptions of that early college high school program. Participants were 10th-12th grade students who were enrolled in the Early College High School during the 2015-2016 school year. Three focus groups were conducted using semi-structured interviews. The qualitative data collected from the focus groups were transcribed and coded inductively into emerging themes.

Findings from this study indicate that there are benefits and challenges associated with participating in an early college high school. These benefits include the relationships students build with their teachers and peers, college preparation, attending college at no cost, and the head start experience to college life. The challenges include the competitiveness among the students, a strenuous workload, the ability to be self-driven, and the struggle in maintaining a balanced life. In addition to the benefits and challenges, the students also identified factors that influenced their successful completion of the program, such as family support and self-determination. The students never lost sight of the purpose of the program, which was to earn an associate’s degree. During the process, they remained steadfast and they redefined success as surviving four years of the ECHS program by earning college hours and a high school diploma. Throughout it all, their resilience prevailed, leaving them feeling a sense of self-accomplishment.

The findings may be used to inform school and district leaders about what early college high school programs offer, as well as about the challenges. This study also will contribute to the body of literature on the experiences of participants of early college high school programs.

Early college high schools, School programs, Building Relationships, Self-determination, Resilience, Associate's Degree, College Preparation, Self-driven, Family support