"The whole idea of early college high school is to give students who are academically prepared an opportunity to have a high school and college experience at the same time," Clark Baron, principal of the Utah County Academy of Sciences in Orem, said. "We are very upfront that when a student enters UCAS they need to be prepared immediately to start working at a college level."
Baron said his school, like other early college high schools in the state, holds school dances and assemblies and operates some activities, such as student government, to involve and engage students. Students are also able to participate in the athletic programs of the comprehensive high schools they would otherwise be attending.
But for other interests, he said, students must either participate privately or accept that jumping ahead of their academic peers carries some social costs.
"It is a sacrifice to come here," Baron said. "They’re missing out on some of the high school experience, but there are benefits also."
Because of its location within a comprehensive high school, as opposed to on or adjacent to a college campus, AMES students have the opportunity to interact with and take elective courses with the students of Cottonwood High School, Wilson said.
"All the electives — band, auto shop, all of those things we would be hard-pressed to do — we have that benefit," Wilson said.
Kessig praised the early college model, saying that for a particular segment of students who have a strong sense of where they want to go in life, it provides an opportunity to focus on their goals.
"There are some kids who really know what they want to do," she said. "For that type of student, they know the track and they're heading down it."
For the students at ITINERIS, less is more. Ashley Bohne, a senior who intends to go into the medical field after serving an LDS mission, said she has attended 11 schools with the early college charter being her clear favorite due to the small size and camaraderie among students.
"I've never been to a better school than ITINERIS," she said. "You don't get the same high school experience, there's not weird cliques like 'the jocks' and 'the nerds.'"
Breana Zuver, a senior who intends to study at Washington State University in pursuit as a career as a large animal veterinarian, agreed. She said she had looked forward to attending ITINERIS ever since hearing about it years ago.
"You could say we're all nerds," she said. "We're just different types of nerds."
Too much too soon
A common point of opposition in discussions of early college education is the worry that students are being pushed at too early an age to select their chosen careers. Connected to that concern are those who argue that with a finite number of hours in a school day, increased attention toward STEM education comes at the detriment of a generalized education that includes music and the arts.
Stanger said there is a great value in a generalized, liberal arts education. He said ideally, education should be a balance between broad instruction that engenders critical thinking on a wide array of subjects and specific training that prepares students to continue their education or enter the workforce.
He said it is common for college students to switch majors, sometimes repeatedly, before landing on a chosen career path. That academic indecision is costly, extending the time a student spends enrolled and paying tuition and in some cases preventing a person from following their true interests.
But early college high school students, he said, are able to experience and be introduced to higher education early, lessening the financial burden of pursuing a college degree and informing their decisions in selecting a major of study.
"Before they make that large investment in college, they’re able to make better decisions," Stanger said. "They’re making up their minds at a much less expensive time than if they did that later"
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