EDINBURG – An internal University of Texas-Pan American study reveals students who earn college credit while still in high school consistently outperform their traditional peers in several key measures.
UTPA completed its report Tuesday but shared the findings with local school district officials at a semi-annual Leadership Alliance conference on Wednesday.
With new retention, graduation and grade-point average data to back them up, educators at both the high school and higher education levels praised the value of expanding early college opportunities to more Rio Grande Valley students.
“Beyond what we do at the high school, the curriculum that we have used for years, we want to take it a step further (because) statistically, they are going to be successful,” said Magdalena Hinojosa, UTPA’s senior vice president for enrollment, after presenting her study.
“It doesn’t so much matter, based on this data,” what college readiness program a student enters, she added. “What really matters is you do something, because there are huge differences in those who do and those who do not.”
According to Hinojosa’s report, entering freshmen with any prior college hours, or PCH, are 2.7 times more likely than their traditional peers to stay at UTPA after their first year. More than 80 percent of PCH students in 2010 continued to a second year, while about 62 percent of non-PCH students did.
The early college crowd is 8.3 times more likely to graduate within four years than students with no PCH, at respective graduation rates of 26.5 percent and 2.7 percent for the fall 2007 cohorts.
Moreover, entering freshmen with PCH earned a GPA of 2.8, 2.71 and 2.74 during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 fall semesters, respectively; non-PCH students only scored 2.09, 1.98 and 1.99 GPAs in that same time period.
“We always have known the data is great,” said South Texas College President Shirley Reed, whose institution hosts nine early college high schools, or ECHS, in Hidalgo County.
That program allows low-income, typically first-generation college-going students to earn up to two years of college credit even before graduating from high school. Eight more high schools want to partner with STC next fall to open similar campuses.
“These students have a real experience with college (and) success,” Reed said. “It’s that ‘Yes, I can do it, and look, I have just proven it’ (mindset), particularly for the first-generation students who don’t know about college.
“Implementing this no-tuition, dual-enrollment program is literally transforming college-readiness, (-going and) -completion rates in the Valley.”
Regardless of whether students obtain college credits through an ECHS or several other avenues available to them in high school, some UTPA professors have criticized the early college movement.
They have discussed their concerns during faculty senate meetings and partially prompted the university to produce the new report.
“(Early college) students simply do not perform well,” political professor Sam Freeman told The Monitor earlier this month.
“Those excuses for college classes they take in high school do not develop (the skills) needed to succeed,” he said. “They get to college and fall flat on their faces.”
The Monitor attempted to reach Freeman for further comment following the release of UTPA’s report.
Because he received the study Tuesday, he declined to offer his perspective until he could fully examine it.
“I have not had time to read and study the report thoroughly,” Freeman wrote in an email. “Until I determine whether the university tested the variables it should have tested and in the way they should have been tested, I will withhold further public comment.”
He also insisted that “if the study was conducted properly and the data do indicate I was wrong,” he would freely admit it, honoring a statement he made in the prior Monitor article.
SO MANY, SO QUICKLY
Despite his or any other educator’s conclusions, the numbers prove entering freshmen with PCH have already grown, and will continue to grow, into a sizeable force that universities must learn to handle.
According to the new report, 55.5 percent – or 1,352 students – of entering freshmen in fall 2005 had some PCH. That proportion rose to 61.2 percent in fall 2011, when 1,924 entering freshmen similarly earned some PCH in high school.
Additionally, the average number of PCH that students hold has grown from 15.5 to 22 mean hours, a nearly 42 percent increase over the past seven years.
“We always try to advise the student where they’re at and help support them to graduation,” said Kristin Croyle, UTPA vice provost for undergraduate education.
“But since this cohort is becoming so much larger so (much) more quickly, it seems like this is a good time for us to really focus on developing strategies that will be particular successful on the whole in advisement.”
But as ECHS campuses begin producing their first graduates over the next few years, Croyle’s office will have to absorb hundreds and perhaps a couple of thousand more PCH students – each with enough credits to essentially enter their junior year on their first day at UTPA.
It will be up to the university, Croyle said, to recalibrate its support services to help 18-year-old students adjust and quickly accelerate to classes that mostly 20-year-olds filled in the past.
“They have the same needs of other students,” she said, “but we would need to do the same career exploration as we would with a regular freshman with a sort of ‘fast track’ course selection advisement since they’re already so far into their college career.
“We already have the building blocks. We may just need to use them in different combinations.”
Neal Morton covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4472.
Follow Neal Morton on Twitter: @nealtmorton
Click here to read the report on prior college hours’ impact at UTPA