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In One Austin Public School, Two Paths to Earn College Credit

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News
Austin ISD's LBJ and LASA high schools are in the same building, but students at each school follow different paths to college.

LBJ Early College High School and the Liberal Arts and Science Academy share the same building in the Austin Independent School District. But the schools have different philosophies when it comes to how their students should pursue college credits in high school. 

Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News
LASA Principal Stacia Crescenzi says AP courses are a better fit for LASA students because many of them apply to college outside of Texas, where AP is more recognizable to admissions offices.

When you walk through the doors at LBJ and LASA, LASA students head upstairs. LBJ students head to classrooms on the first floor. Upstairs, all students are taking multiple Advanced Placement courses. Nearly all those students pass their AP tests at the end of the year, which means some kind of college credit.

Principal Stacia Crescenzi says more LASA students go for AP credits because they’re applying to colleges across the country. She says the AP is more widely recognized.

“Since our goal when students graduate from us is that we haven’t closed any doors, AP tests, although not accepted everywhere, really are accepted most places in the U.S. and abroad," Crescenzi says. "So kids can feel like, 'No matter where I go, those college credits will be accepted.'”

Downstairs at LBJ, students are earning college credit in a different way: through the district’s Early College program. First, students take the Texas Success Initiative test, which determines if they’re ready for college work. Once they pass, they can start taking classes for free at Austin Community College. And, if they pass their courses, they get college credit. Some students can earn enough credits to get their Associate’s degree before they graduate high school.

“We have a high free and reduced lunch rate here on our campus," says Sheila Henry, LBJ's principal. "Our students don’t necessarily get that opportunity to even be exposed to college at all unless there’s this opportunity for them. So it’s just an opportunity for them to advance their families, to give back.”

Early College high schools were designed to lift up first-generation college students who attend struggling schools in low-income areas, but financial aid isn't just an issue for low-income families trying to pay for college.

Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News
LBJ Principal Sheila Henry says dual credit provides an opportunity for college that many students at LBJ Early College High School would never have otherwise.

“There is no one regardless of family income who doesn’t want to efficiently use their money at the collegiate level," Crescenzi says. "For some students, it’s the ability to start as a sophomore or a junior. For other students, it’s the ability to skip out of classes and not have to be in those large, freshman classes. And they can immediately dive into the courses they’re more interested in.”

LBJ only offers AP calculus, AP Spanish and AP Art. Principal Henry says even if students aren’t passing AP tests, just taking an AP class can boost a student’s grade point average. Plus, she does think students are doing better every year.

“Even though some of our students, and that can be a majority of our students, are not passing the AP exam...they are making progress and we don’t want to discourage them from taking the course even if they don’t pass the exam," Henry says.

When it comes to dual credit, LBJ still has a long way to go before all of its students are ready for the Early College Program it offers. In the 2014-2015 school year, between 12 and 20 percent of LBJ students took dual credit classes. That means the rest of the students couldn’t pass the test to take college level work or chose not to. But of the students who took dual credit classes, three quarters passed them.

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