NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford High School students interested in getting a head start on a college degree are being given a new opportunity to do so, free of charge, beginning as soon as this summer now with the recent approval of Early College programming by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
It’s not the first time the school department has partnered with Bristol Community College to bring higher learning to high schoolers, but it is the most comprehensive program of its kind yet, offering students the chance to choose from three pathways — Business Transfer, Computer Information Sciences and Health Sciences — and earn anywhere from one to two semesters’ worth of college credits toward a related degree. Bristol CC Associate Director of College Access Carlos E. Avila explained how the new program differs from the popular dual enrollment partnership between the high school and college.
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“So dual enrollment at its core is really an exploratory opportunity as well as a supplement to high school education. It’s more or less self-guided, so students could have taken courses that met their interest at that point in time, but there isn’t.” t the structure involved in Early College,” Avila said. “With Early College, the students know the courses that they’ll be taking up front. There’s been pre-planning as early as freshman and sophomore year.”
How it will work
Opportunities for students to get started will begin this summer as part of the New Bedford Public Schools’ Whaler Ready programming. Students entering grades 9-11 in the fall will be able to sign up for the College Success Seminar (CSS 101), which is the first step.
“This is a one-credit course focused on preparing students for their enrollment and successful participation within their decided higher education pathway,” explained Curriculum Data and Assessment Manager for Enrichment and Accelerated Programs for New Bedford Public Schools Magaly Sanchez, who submitted the Early College program application jointly with Avila.
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Students enrolled in Early College will take college courses at the high school taught by visiting Bristol CC professors until their senior year, at which point they will begin attending classes at Bristol CC’s New Bedford or Fall River campus. It’s a methodology educators refer to as “college acculturation,” said Sanchez. “This benefits students as it allows them the opportunity to get used to being on the college campus, helps them know where important support offices are such as student academic services, and financial aid. What is key is that students learn about the diverse services and opportunities available to them and how to access these supports.”
Another major component of Early College is having a robust system of supports in place to assist students from beginning to end and beyond into full collegiate life. Officials from both schools outlined a number of such supports, including partnerships with MassHire; and private academic tutoring and advising firm OneGoal Prep — the latter of which will provide Early College students with two years of support while still in high school before following them through their first year of college.
How to sign up
Interested students will need to submit applications to secure a spot, with plans in place to enroll by lottery in the event there are more applicants than openings. According to Avila, the full Early College program will have 120 openings for the upcoming school year, with plans to double to 240 the following year; however there will be 528 openings for students enrolling in the College Success Seminar this summer, which he says is meant to benefit any student with college plans.
As part of the program’s equity-oriented design, applicants’ “previous academic performance” will not be a factor in enrollment, Sanchez noted.
In the bigger picture
School officials from New Bedford and Bristol CC as well as others tout Early College Programming as a way to increase equity for populations underrepresented in higher learning. On Monday, the Baker-Polito Administration announced that, as part of a statewide push to create more college opportunities for high schoolers, over $1.3 million in grant money has been set aside for schools with Early College programs.
“Early College is a wonderful addition to the pathways that currently exist at New Bedford High School and one that will offer additional college access and opportunities for students and in particular for students that otherwise may not see college as an option for them,” Sanchez said .
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“I’m a New Bedford resident myself, so it’s great to see my work have a positive impact,” Avila said. “We’ve had a relationship with New Bedford Public Schools for years and we’ve done great work together but this is the best it’s ever been. This is going to increase college attainment and really let it go further than ever before.”
In a press release from New Bedford Public Schools, Superintendent Thomas Anderson noted how the new Early College program is one component in a larger and still-growing range of college opportunities.
“With our Bristol CC partners in higher education we are able to include Early College as yet another pathway for students to obtain credentials at NBHS that already includes over 20 Advanced Placement courses, Dual Enrollment, National Academy Foundation certification, the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy, and the Academy of Honors, and the soon to be approved International Baccalaureate Program.”
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In addition to its partnership with New Bedford, Bristol CC is also launching Early College Programming with the Argosy Collegiate Charter School in Fall River. That version of the program will offer a singular liberal arts transfer pathway, according to Bristol CC officials.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Education anticipates that, as a result of the current push for Early College Programming, approximately 8,700 students will be enrolled in early college programs by the 2024-2025 school year, according to a press release.