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Education Reporter

States Experiment with Early Graduation
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While deficiencies at the high school level cost taxpayers billions of dollars in remedial education at public universities, a countervailing trend has young, motivated students starting college coursework while still in high school — or even graduating from high school in less than four years. Dual enrollment and early graduation open up stimulating opportunities for especially bright and hardworking students, and could even save taxpayers money if these trends catch on.

Advanced Placement coursework is the most common way for high schoolers to get an early start on their college education. 406,000 seniors, or almost 15% of those who graduated in 2006, took an AP exam and scored at least a 3, out of a possible 5. A second option, dual enrollment, allows students to take classes at two- or four-year colleges while they are still in high school. In Florida, over 30,000 high school juniors and seniors earn college credit through dual enrollment. College classes they take over the summer can also count toward their high school course requirements.

Washington State and North Carolina also encourage dual enrollment. Washington juniors and seniors can take classes at state community colleges, and North Carolina students can graduate in five years with a high school diploma and an associate's degree, through the "Learn and Earn" program. Learn and Earn students take classes in person or online from state community colleges, earning college credit at no cost to themselves or their families.

In 1997, Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, suggested voluntary graduation after three years as a remedy for the boredom that besets fast learners in high school. Modern adolescents are physiologically mature, said Botstein, and the "out-of-date strategy and system" of the traditional four-year high school structure fails to meet many students' maturity or capabilities. Botstein predicted that early graduation could take advantage of new learning technologies — which the North Carolina dual enrollment model certainly does, as it combines traditional schooling with community college classes and online coursework.

Connecticut's Yankee Institute for Public Policy recently took up Botstein's suggestion and examined how early graduation could benefit the state economically, as well. According to the think tank's report, if 25% of high school students accepted a full scholarship to community college, or $5,000 cash equivalent, in place of a fourth year of high school, the state would save $58 million a year.

Lewis Andrews of the Yankee Institute believes that early graduation has the potential to solve several problems at once. "While the national education debate focuses on such contentious issues as vouchers and national testing standards, a simple policy giving Connecticut high school students incentives to graduate early could expand educational opportunity, combat classroom boredom, and help the most disadvantaged afford at least two years of college — all while providing tax relief to hard-pressed homeowners," he writes. (School Reform News, October 2008)

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