Grant bridges high school, college

The drive to move teens out of high school and into college classes more quickly received a big boost last week: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would spend more than $40 million to help finance 70 "early college" high schools.

The idea of allowing academically gifted high-schoolers to take college classes is not new and has been practiced in different parts of the United States for years. Up until now, students who participated in such programs, for the most part, have tended to be top performers from academically strong schools.

But there has been growing interest in recent years in the idea that many teenagers suffer from boredom in high school, and that moving more rapidly into college classes might prevent students in disadvantaged neighborhoods from losing interest in school and dropping out.

Grants from the Seattle-based Gates Foundation will target minority students in poor urban and rural areas across the country. The schools they create will allow students to take college courses in their junior and senior years, and graduate with both a high school diploma and a two-year associate's degree.

One of the prototypes for the Gates project is the Bard High School Early College, a joint venture between the New York City Board of Education and Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. The Bard school opened last September in Brooklyn, and has about 260 students working concurrently on high school diplomas and associate's degrees.

Bard College also operates Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, Mass., a private school where high school sophomores and juniors are able to begin college classes. The school has also become associated with the early college movement because of the college's president, Leon Botstein, who is an outspoken critic of US high schools. His 1997 book "Jefferson's Children," in which he denounces the high school system as an outmoded waste of time – also raised the prospect of moving students more quickly into college.

Interest in the idea of early college seems to be gaining a foothold in various states and communities. Both Utah and Washington State are seeking means to combine high school and college in some schools, and in Cincinnati, four public high schools are now partnering with several Ohio universities to bring college classes to high school campuses.

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