The End of High Schools As We Know Them?
Early College High Schools Promise To Reshuffle Alliances
With roughly 250 early college high schools currently active in 28 states, some educators have begun to wonder what the future holds for the traditional public high school. Decreasing state budget commitments to K-12 education compounded by state economic shortfalls have made school officials nervous about continued funding and wary of new concept schools that could channel students and more money away from the K-12 system. Some anxious administrators see the early college as one such threat should it continue to receive the acclaim it has recently garnered.
Currently, much of the funding for early colleges comes from government and private foundation grants, but this funding is intended to help with start-up costs and will continue only through the first five years of the colleges. At that time, if they continue to show positive results, these early college schools will need to rely totally on state education funding, a burden that already overburdened K-12 school systems may not be able to handle.
But early colleges are not solely under the jurisdiction of state K-12 systems. They share control of the early colleges with state community college systems, a separate system that would be just as burdened to take on solo control of the colleges. The good news for both is that should a new and innovative type of school show success in preparing students for postsecondary learning, state budgets will certainly find a way to sustain them, and being that these new schools are housed in existing high school or community college institutions, eliminating substantial outlays such as building new structures for the colleges, the cost would be lower than funding a magnate or alternative school. The question arises, though, that as state entities begin to commit to wholly funding these institutions, which organization will emerge with more control over the colleges, K-12 or the community colleges?
The fight over control of the early colleges could become a real question because if the colleges are surrendered outright to the community college system, K-12 systems would lose complete funding for the students in those programs. These students would also no longer be governed by K- 12 policy or be measured within that system. In effect, a new high school group would emerge to go along with private school students and home-schooled students, leaving public high schools to govern a slightly smaller population and be constantly threatened by more students leaving the system for the new option.
Public school administrators know that losing control of these students means losing funding, and they will be obliged to fight to keep their existing funding. However, many of the new early colleges are chartered on community college campuses, giving the community colleges the advantage in claiming them as their own. Others are housed in high schools simply for the reason that their geographic location does not have a nearby college to house them. If the question comes down to who has eminent control of the students, community colleges stand to gain from the fact that the students, for the most part, are on their campus, and K-12 administrators know this. To avoid an unproductive war on who should have final control of these students, K-12 and community college administrators will need to find a comfortable compromise to find the greatest product in this problem.
There is great promise in building partnerships between K-12 and higher education. With recent budget shortfalls, leveraging students from K-12 to community colleges through dual enrollment programs, early and middle colleges can help mitigate the effects of teacher shortages in the public schools. Early colleges can produce additional high schools in K-12 service areas without the expense of creating new buildings and hiring extensive staff to man them. The facilities for these schools are provided by community colleges and the faculty is shared by the K-12 institution and the host college.
The danger with these arrangements exists in the politics and the power of each organization. Institutions not willing to share control over students or fearing that the state may split student FTE counts, thereby reducing funding, may be reluctant to partner. If partnerships do occur with regularity, it is inevitable that administrators controlling the partnerships will push for efficiency by consolidating parts or all of each organization. The resulting K-16 institution will present enormous questions as to what qualities will dominate its culture, those of higher education or those of K-12. Either of these cultures may be very wrong for the whole of the institution.