High School Diploma? I’ll Take an Associate Degree with That!

Solutions to our broken education system in which many students fail to earn even a high school diploma often seem so very out of reach. Yet it may be that answers are not that complicated if only we had the political will to implement them.


One solution? Early college high schools like IBM’s P-TECH and those developed by Bard College, the selective liberal arts school in upstate New York. Graduates from such schools earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in either four years or six, potentially cutting the cost of college in half.

The two models reflect their origins: P-TECH focuses on career readiness; graduates from the high school in Brooklyn, New York, have accepted full-time offers at IBM right after graduation (some have gone on to four-year colleges). The Bard model prepares students for a rigorous liberal arts education.

Both are giving low-income students a chance at life—by not requiring them to have certain middle school test scores, and by offering college-level work with lots of academic support.

The result? The students are thriving. According to The Baltimore Sun, “the American Institutes for Research reported in 2013 that students enrolled in early college high schools were more likely to graduate from high school and college.”

America’s Promise reports that the U.S. now has a national average high school graduation rate of 83.2%. But without targeted strategies to increase the rates of certain student groups like African Americans, English language learners, and others, the nation will not reach a high school graduation rate of 90% by the year 2020—a goal of the organization. But with more early college high schools, we might.

Rigor Is a Plus


I never understood why poor kids in the U.S., especially poor black kids, almost always get a poor education, whereas affluent communities offer their students the best, most rigorous, most demanding coursework.

Once they arrive at college—and according to the Atlantic, they are going to college: “60% of students from the top quarter of households … graduate with bachelor’s degrees within 10 years of finishing high school—four times as often as students from the lowest quarter of households”—they are academically and often socially and emotionally prepared.

Education is indisputably the pathway out of poverty, but under-resourced schools in low-income areas don’t typically prioritize academic rigor. At the Bard High School Early College in Baltimore, however, students read Plato and Nietzsche, and the first graduating class enjoyed a retention rate of 100%, The Baltimore Sun reports. No student left because the work was too hard. Indeed, the Sun says the students valued the “the depth of the teaching”; one boy called the school “a blessing.”

To learn more, visit The Baltimore Sun.