Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
WEST JORDAN — In May, Travis Butterfield will earn his associate degree from Salt Lake Community College with credits to spare, a milestone on his path to a planned career in reconstructive surgery.
Assuming, of course, that he graduates from high school first.
"I still need to finish high school gym," he said. "It's the only thing holding me back from graduating."
Butterfield is a senior at ITINERIS Early College High School, a charter school located on the Jordan campus of Salt Lake Community College. There, Butterfield and his classmates split their time between courses at ITINERIS and college classes across the parking lot at the college, earning their way to a high school diploma and an associate degree simultaneously.
ITINERIS currently enrolls more than 250 students, all juniors and seniors, and administrators plan to expand to a larger building and include sophomores to top 400 students by the 2014-15 academic year, Assistant Principal Renee Edwards said.
Each year, roughly 70 percent of seniors collect an associate degree at the end of the year, Edwards said, and in 2012 the school graduated 95 percent of its senior class, well ahead of the state average of 78 percent. The school posts similarly high scores in ACT testing, in which the school's average score for 2011 was 24.6, compared to 21.9 for the state, and 48 percent of students tested college-ready in all four ACT sections, compared to 27 percent for their statewide peers.
"It definitely gives them access to rigorous college courses so that when they leave here and when they enter the university system, they know how to study, they know what’s expected of them," Edwards said. "Many of the students have their high school credits complete by the beginning of their senior year."
Academic head start
Utah has six early college high schools from Logan to St. George. These public charter schools were created during the past decade in district-college partnerships with seed money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Through a combination of advanced placement, concurrent enrollment and early college courses, students are able to begin their post-secondary studies early and in most cases enter higher education years ahead of their traditional-school peers.
The schools are producing graduation rates over 90 percent, and depending on the school's particular demographics, anywhere from a third of a class to an entire class of students leave high school with at least one year of completed college credit
Statewide, Utah graduates 78 percent of high school seniors. That figure has been steadily increasing, as has the number of students who take concurrent enrollment and early college courses, but a wide performance gap remains for minority students.
Moya Kessig, early college and gifted and talented specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, said the state does not track the percentage of students who complete a year of college while in high school. But she said last year 27,000 public school students took concurrent enrollment courses and earned a combined 189,387 college credits.
"That's a lot of credits generated," she said. "We're seeing an increase of kids taking more rigorous courses, which is great news."
Nationally, a push has begun to take early college education one step further with the creation of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in New York, which adds a business partner to move at-risk students into high-skilled industry professions. Schools based on the P-Tech model have now opened in Chicago and similar schools are being planned in several states including Idaho, where the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation recently announced it would contribute $5 million to the creation of such a school.
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