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Austin ISD Wants To Offer More High Schoolers The Option To Pursue Associate Degrees

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. for KUT News
Early College High School programs offer high schoolers the chance to enroll in college courses that count towards associate degrees.

More Austin public high school students could start earning their associate degrees next year. Austin ISD is asking the state for permission to open Early College High School programs at two additional schools this fall.

The program allows high school students to take college courses at a local community college. Participating students can even graduate high school with an associate degree. The district wants to add Early College High School programs at Lanier and Eastside Memorial High Schools, both of which serve predominantly low-income minority students.

“It has been a proven formula for propelling students, particularly disadvantaged students, to college success," says Melissa Biegert, who directs the Early College High School program at ACC.  Lanier would partner with Austin Community College—just like AISD's three current early college high school programs. But Eastside would be unique, because it would partner with Huston-Tillotson University.

The program targets low-income students who are the first in their families to attend college. AISD’s Edmund Oropez says many of those students have trouble navigating the college application process.

“Just getting through the system. I mean, that’s one of the most intimidating things, applying to college, going to college, getting through the rigorous courses they face. Now they’re able to do it with a lot of wraparound support.”

And, the students get to spend time on a college campus. Biegert with ACC says that makes the whole idea of going to college less scary.

“I see them between classes, and they’re hanging out in student areas. I see them on weekends, and they use our tutoring centers. They feel like college students, and they know they can do that, and that boost that it gives them helps to propel them to the next step.”

There are seven other Early College High School programs in school districts across Central Texas. Hays Consolidated ISD has been approved to get one—but it’s currently on hold.  State officials are expected to decide which new programs to approve in the next month. 

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