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Early colleges, like Eastern Michigan's ECA, boost college graduation rates

Bob Eccles


Cathy Shafran: This is 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran. Among the many struggles in education is dropping graduation rates both in high schools and colleges. But one system appears to be helping to improve those odds, especially within minority communities. It's called Early College. And in Washtenaw County, it's showing 75% college graduation rates for students of color. Joining us to discuss the success is Dave Dugger. He's the executive director of the Washtenaw Educational Consortium Options. And included in this consortium is the middle college called Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University, which he founded back in 2007. Dave, thanks so much for joining us.

David Dugger, executive director of the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium recently was named the first recipient of the Dr. Chery Wagonlander Early Middle College Lifetime Achievement Award from the Michigan Department of Education.
David Dugger, executive director of the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium recently was named the first recipient of the Dr. Chery Wagonlander Early Middle College Lifetime Achievement Award from the Michigan Department of Education.

Dave Dugger: It's absolutely my pleasure.

Cathy Shafran: I see that you just recently received a lifetime achievement award from the state of Michigan for your work supporting education pathways for students. And, as part of your award acceptance, you pointed to the success of the Early College Alliance at EMU. That's the program that shows college student rates for students of color some 700% higher than the state average. These are young people who are going on to college and graduating at a rate 700% higher than the state average.

Dave Dugger: That's true.

Cathy Shafran: That caught my attention.

Dave Dugger: That's a pretty remarkable number.

Cathy Shafran: I was thinking others as well. But before we discuss how we get to those numbers, maybe we can quickly explain the concept behind early college programs like the ECA at EMU.

Dave Dugger: Mm hmm.

Cathy Shafran: How does it work?

Dave Dugger: Well, absolutely. It's a great question. Early middle colleges really create a non time-based system, so to speak, so that you're blending this space, this educational space, between ninth grade and the first two years of college. And you basically are telling students that you're going to enter this. And then, by the time you finish, you'll have two years of college. But they all have a different path. And so, when you start looking at early middle colleges and you start saying, "Okay. What are the skills necessary to be successful in college? Let's teach those: everything from academic skills to academic behaviors, which we call soft skills. And then, let's teach students how to be college students. So, it's really this really thoughtful, completely rethinking, of how to educate students. This isn't about gathering credit. This is actually about preparing you to be successful in college. And so now, students leave high school with two years of college credit to no cost to the student or family, and they're on their way to finishing a college degree. It's a win win win for everybody.

Cathy Shafran: So, they are, in essence, still completing high school at that time-regulated period, 12th grade. They are able to apply the courses that they're taking at the university to their high school course load,.

Dave Dugger: Of course.

Cathy Shafran: So, they graduate with that, but, at the same time, they graduate with college credits.

Dave Dugger: Yeah.

Cathy Shafran: Typically, how many?

Dave Dugger: 60 or 65.

Cathy Shafran: So, by the time they are graduating high school, they have 60 to 65 college credits.

Dave Dugger: They're halfway through college.

Cathy Shafran: They're halfway through college at the same time.

Dave Dugger: And these credits are accepted everywhere from MIT to U of M to Eastern, you name it, because colleges always accept college credit, you know, high school. And it is one of the things that is somewhat complicated is that in Michigan, advanced placement is a lot of what people want to put their eggs in basket in. But the data we have available to us does not appear that very many of those classes translate to college credit, whereas college credit is college credit.

Cathy Shafran: So, you've been doing this for so long that you're able to actually look at statistical analysis to show the number of those students who come through this program, continue on, and complete their college education, as opposed to those who don't. Now, the statistics that I read were just looking at success rates for students of color.

Dave Dugger: Mm hmm.

Cathy Shafran: And you're saying that that's 700% higher college graduation rates for students of color who go through an early college.

Dave Dugger: For Black students.

Cathy Shafran: For Black students. Why do you think that's happening?

Dave Dugger: When you look at all the demographics at the ECA, they're all graduating college at rates of at 74, 75, 76. So, that's another example of how stable and the fidelity of the processes is that really everybody benefits at that point. There's a couple of reasons. One, you're halfway through college. And so, you have experience of what the college experience is about. You are younger, you don't have to go full time. You can balance your life maybe a little bit more. You're prepared for it. You know, high schools don't prepare students for college. They graduate students. That's their primary problem they're trying to solve is how do I graduates students. This is a really big problem in Michigan, because 55% of our high school students have to take remedial courses in college. Well, we also know that if you take three or more remedial courses in college, it'll be one in ten chance of finishing. So, you really have stacked the deck against most people finishing. So, it really is sort of eliminating that.

Cathy Shafran: And one question I should have asked. For those who still have students that have yet to reach the high school level, do you have to meet certain requirements to be able to be accepted to?

Dave Dugger: Absolutely not. We don't believe in that. We're a public school. We're a public school consortium. We couldn't do that if we wanted to. But, in fact, 30% of the slots are reserved for students on free and reduced lunch. They get first dibs.

Cathy Shafran: Our discussion on early college education programing continues on 89.1 WEMU. One student who has seen success in these programs is on that trajectory toward completing graduation of college soon, a couple of years down the line, is Xiomara Trujillo. She is a graduate of the early college program and now finishing up her junior year at Eastern Michigan University. She has expectations to graduate with a degree in international business marketing and a minor in public relations. Xiomara, thanks so much for being with us.

Xiomara Trujillo: Yeah, of course.

Cathy Shafran: When you were in your eighth grade year and you were approaching what do I do next with my high school education, what drew you to the ECA program?

Xiomara Trujillo: I had a cousin that went to the early college program, and it was a really difficult decision just because of the amount of commitment that I knew that I would have to give to the early college program. And I wanted to make my parents proud.

Cathy Shafran: And you were already looking at high school as a time that Okay, I need to start doing well in my grades, so that I could go to a good college?

Xiomara Trujillo: Yeah, that was what I had going on in my brain.

Cathy Shafran: As you entered the program, did you find any of your plans for your future changing? Did it help develop a better idea of what you were doing?

Xiomara Trujillo: Like, roughly after my second semester of doing EMU classes through the ECA, ECA gave me the opportunity to, like, dabble in a lot of areas without the big financials of it, only because you can take advantage of those. And there's lots of classes that count for your gen eds. And you can do a broad variety of things.

Cathy Shafran: And what did you go for? What interested you that you didn't realize you had an interest in before?

Xiomara Trujillo: I had gone to a intro to business class. I was, like, you know, I'll dabble in, like, business. And I wasn't sure that I was going to, like, go into business. I was a really artsy kid, honestly. And I took the business class and I found it really interesting and I learned about all these different areas in business. And then, like, I learned about, like, marketing. Marketing allows you to be, like, creative and also still do business. That sounds like the perfect path for me, honestly, because it allows me to be creative and also allows me to do business stuff. I have a lot of curiosity for just, like, business in general. And I was planning on becoming an art student, but I wouldn't find a lot of use to, like, arts major.

Cathy Shafran: So, it was the classes that you were offered as a student at ECA that actually triggered your interest in a field that you didn't even had thought about before?

Xiomara Trujillo: Yeah.

Cathy Shafran: So, if you were to advise other students coming along, they're just finishing up junior high school, middle school, and are thinking about high school and what's next, would you say that this is the avenue that they should follow?

Xiomara Trujillo: I think so. Like 1,000%, honestly, just because you can dabble with your classes, but you're still gaining credits. So, that way it goes towards what you're going to, like, study in the long run. And especially just because gen eds are so broad and you can take different things, don't center yourself on just one thing. Try different things out because you never know what you're going to like unless you try it.

Cathy Shafran: So, not only does it offer financial incentives for college, it also offers a pathway to learning about yourself and what it is that you want for your future.

Xiomara Trujillo: Yeah.

Cathy Shafran: So, it takes some pressure, I would think, some pressure off of students. Let me ask that to Dave. Do you find that it's taking pressure off of a typical high school student who hasn't gone through this program who says, "Oh, my, I have to not only pick a college that I want to go to, but I have to say what I want to major in."

Dave Dugger: I think the difference is, as Xiomara said, is that if you think about accumulating college credits, not as credits, you have a lot more space that you can provide that student within their curriculum to do things like that, to look at different types of courses at EMU, from the health sciences to the marketing to accounting. So, the ability to sort of allow students chance to survey a lot of different things is built into it, and it's nice to hear that you feel that was helpful because that is generally the intent. And it has the flexibility to offer that with students because it's not locked into four years in this, four years this and four years of this.

Cathy Shafran: And do you hear stories like Xiomara's on a regular basis and that gives you not only the data to know, but also personal stories, to know that we are seeing students become engaged as a result of this and eager to complete the degree as a result?

Dave Dugger: That speaks to the 75% or higher college completion rate that, for one, once they're finished, they're motivated to continue to study and finish your degree program. You know, we always talked about the students that the ECA is it everybody has their own journey. They're in class with people that might be 20, 30 years older than them. And so, we really try to encourage them to sort of embrace this experience because it is very, very different. It really empowers them, I think, because they begin to move out into the real world and find, "My goodness, I can have a lab partner who's 35 and I can help that person." You know? And that's super empowering for a 17-year-old kid.

Cathy Shafran: Dave Dugger and Xiomara Trujillo. I want to thank both of you so much for joining us. I want to congratulate you, Dave, on your Lifetime achievement award, and I want to congratulate you as well on your path toward graduation. I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is 89.1 WEMU FM, Ypsilanti, your community NPR station.


Early College Alliance (ECA) @ EMU

ECA @ EMU on Facebook

MLive: "Washtenaw County educator awarded for being a pioneer in bringing middle colleges to Michigan"

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
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