Middle and Early College Programs allow high school students to get a jump on higher education.
A number of high school students have an opportunity to get a jump on their career by earning their diploma and an associate degree at the same time.
Within Mississippi, several high schools have partnered with community colleges in their area to offer Early and Middle College Programs. Because the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) does not require waivers for schools to establish these programs, the actual number of schools that offer them is unknown. However, at least 10 schools that offer a Middle College Program and another five that offer an Early College Program secured waivers for those programs with MDE.
Associate State Superintendent Wendy Clemons said principals don’t need waivers from MDE to partner with a local community college to offer the programs.
Early and Middle College offers participants a direct experience as to what being in college is like. Middle College program students spend part of their school day in an actual college class, while Early College programs partner with smaller high schools by hosting the high school students on the college’s campus.
Most Middle and Early College programs provide a general associate degree the student can use to earn a four-year degree in a variety of fields. But Clemons said some school districts have specialized programs to help fill teacher shortages. One example is the program in Jackson Public Schools. It helps students earn their teaching degree in math through a partnership with Jackson State University in hopes of bringing them back as math teachers.
The Early and Middle College programs may sound intense, but they are not aimed at future salutatorians or valedictorians. Clemons said the goal is to attract the student who does not plan to seek a higher education. Some of those students come from low-income families, or they may be first generation college students.
The most successful students on this educational path start working toward dual graduation during the seventh grade so they have as many Carnegie credits as possible. Having additional credits built up means the students have time in 11th and 12th grades to attend college courses.
Even if they engage in the program and don’t finish their college credits by the time they earn their high school diploma, participants can still go to college and finish their degree, Clemons noted.
While total figures are not known, participation in the program is widespread. Data from the schools with MDE waivers report that at least 810 students were enrolled during the 2021-2022 school year, with a total of 39,896 college credits earned and 356 associate degrees earned. MDE reports the first school to offer the program, Golden Triangle, did so in 2015.
Students who are not interested in earning an associate degree can choose to earn career credentials for trades such as welding within participating programs.
Clemons said the program also helps battle what’s known as the summer melt, where students indicate they want to attend college after high school, but “somehow they lose their way.”