FRAMINGHAM – Elizabeth Avadanian has just started her second year at Framingham High School, but she is already accumulating credits for college.
Avadanian, 15, is one of some 170 students enrolled in the MetroWest Fellows Early Start Program, a team effort between Framingham State University and MassBay Community College. Students at Milford or Framingham Public Schools are exposed to in-demand professional fields, such as business, education, and criminology, as they take college-level courses for free.
For Avadanian, the program gave him insight into college.
“All my teachers would say to me, ‘For college you have to prepare this and that and do that well,” ”Avadanian said. “In fact, being in class – it helps to know what middle school is like compared to high school.”
According to program figures, 71% of students are the first in their families to attend college. Almost 40% of them learn English and just over 75% are economically disadvantaged.
In total, students currently enrolled in the program have obtained 395 college credits.
Last fall, 50% earned at least four credits, a handful eight and a single 12. Starting early, students are on track to complete 15 to 30 credits before graduation from high school.
The program was launched in 2019 after the MetroWest College Planning Collaborative, a joint college access initiative founded five years earlier by FSU and MassBay, won a three-year grant of $ 600,000 from the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation.
It will soon expand to include Waltham Public Schools.
Only 30% of low-income students in Framingham High’s 2012 cohort have graduated from post-secondary education by 2019. And although there are many factors that explain why economically disadvantaged students do not complete college education in Canada. same pace is a huge barrier.
A new report released last month by nonprofit uAspire analyzed 2,253 offers of financial aid from public and private Massachusetts colleges and universities sent to high school students with estimated family contributions of zero. Even for students with the greatest financial need, the grants covered only a small portion of the cost, and as a result, students would have to pay thousands of dollars to enroll, according to the study.
Programs like MetroWest Scholars Early-Start, where students can tackle a significant portion of their college courses while still in high school, can help pave the way for graduation and beyond, say the researchers. school officials.
“If we are able to help students take between three and six courses here at Milford High School that can transfer to a public university or college, we can make a significant contribution to getting them over the factor of affordability, “said Joshua Otlin, principal at Milford High School Principal.
How does the early start of MetroWest scholarship recipients work?
MetroWest Scholars Early-Start makes a crucial adjustment to similar programs in that it begins in college.
Starting up allows students not to have to think about college decisions on their own – a “daunting task” that prevents some from pursuing post-secondary education, said Colleen Coffey, executive director of the MetroWest College Planning Collaborative.
“Now is the right time to do it – when young people and their parents are still connected and making decisions together,” Coffey said.
Outreach starts with seventh graders – reaching out to underrepresented students and letting them know they can go to college while still in high school. In the spring of eighth grade, students and families are expected to engage in the program. This is open access, which means that any student can register.
University classes start right away, with an Interdisciplinary Studies course taught in the summer before ninth grade. In the first year, students take a course in cultural anthropology. The course design provides a lot of reading and writing homework, helping students develop higher-level writing skills required by college courses, according to a report.
In Grade 10, students will choose a specific area to pursue and deepen their career path. They will then take another credit course in that discipline.
Otlin said the program runs during regular school hours to avoid conflicts with employment or participation in fine arts or athletics.
“The lessons are integrated into the school day,” he said.
More funding needed
In April, the state-wide MassINC think tank released a report that early college programs may help improve a student’s chances of graduating, but that funding and expansion additional programs are needed to ensure the participation of minority students.
The MassINC report, which shed light on MetroWest Scholars Early-Start, found that in 2019, more than three-quarters of students who participated in such programs enrolled in university within six months of the graduation, in two years (35%) or in four years. annual programs (42%).
In addition, 97% of participants graduated from high school on time, even if they did not go to college. That’s more than the 91% of their peers who graduated but didn’t participate.
Data from the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also revealed that 89% of black students who participated in these programs went to college, along with 72% of Hispanic students participating.
But in the midst of the success, a key conclusion has repeatedly come back: less than 2% of high school students of color in the state and only 1% of low-income students participate in the programs.
According to the report, the state estimates that 3,650 students are participating in the first college programs this year, with an expected enrollment of nearly 15,000 by 2030.
It’s a pace that, according to MassINC Research Director Benjamin Forman, is perhaps too modest.
“At the current rate of expansion, if we continue to serve it, will that be enough to significantly advance the post-secondary completion dial in Massachusetts?” We don’t think so, ”Forman said at the time.
If students are struggling, the program offers multiple levels of overall support, Coffey said.
In grade eight, the program director and family engagement coordinator meet with students and families in the evenings and weekends in the community space. Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole and Vietnamese translators are available.
Framingham and Milford High Schools have coaches and counselors available to meet with students at least three days a week. The program also has its own tutors, who can help students during the free periods built into the schedule, and a weekly enrichment meeting, which brings together Early College students as a community within the school.
They also partner with a counseling agency to offer emotional support.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, wellness sessions were added to the program, Coffey said.
“People learn to take care of themselves,” she said. “COVID has pushed everyone against the wall and we had to do to react to what is happening.”
Otlin believes one of the benefits of the program is that it helps families learn how to support their child when they get to college, saying it can level the playing field for first-generation students.
“Having someone in your corner who knows the game and has played it successfully gives you an advantage when you haven’t played the game successfully and no one in your family has,” said Otlin. “Just as we build ourselves. our students, we are building the family so that they too can play the pivotal role in this process very well. “
“Happy for college”
Students who complete five college courses will have one semester of college studies – a quarter of an associate’s degree – before high school graduation, Otlin said.
Framingham High sophomore Avadanian said she was able to skip a year of history, thanks to a college course in the subject.
“I can do more things in the future instead of getting stuck with all the compulsory high school classes,” she said.
She said she was “excited for college and I’m more excited now”. Avadanian is undecided on what she wants to study, but leans towards education.
“If I can explore more, I will be able to learn more about everything,” she said.
Reports from the Statehouse News Service were used in this story.