More high schoolers enrolling in college

January 26, 2009
When Siara Reyes enrolled at Fall Creek Academy, a public charter school on the near-north side, she didn't plan on going to college.

But she quickly found she really couldn't avoid it.

Fall Creek Academy is among a growing number of high schools that enroll their students to take classes at colleges, earning credit toward both a high school and a college degree.

The effort is particularly intense at Fall Creek, where the school motto is "All Roads Lead to College." For the past three years, Fall Creek has been paying all costs for students to take college entrance exams, file applications, buy books and pay tuition.

"I really hadn't thought I would [go to college] until I came here," said Reyes, 18. "But they push it really hard."

Reyes will graduate in May with 21 credits earned at Ivy Tech Community College, which sits about a block away from Fall Creek Academy. She wants to study either food nutrition or biblical counseling in college.

To keep up funding for students like Reyes, the operator of Fall Creek Academy, GEO Foundation, is trying to raise corporate donations. GEO President Kevin Teasley has signed up two of his board members for support: Rollie Dick of Haverstick Consulting and Vicky Perry of Advantage Health Solutions.

Both companies committed monetary support and are considering offering or funding internships for students in GEO's Indianapolis schools.

"I want them to be college experienced and work force experienced," said Teasley, sipping coffee at a Starbucks cafe and occasionally checking calls coming into his red BlackBerry phone.

Raising Indiana's high school and college graduation rates is a key issue for both education and business leaders. Some development economists say the regions of the country that are home to the highest percentage of college-educated adults have the best economic growth.

Thirty-two percent of working-age Hoosiers have at least an associate's degree, compared with 37 percent nationally. One reason Indiana is so low is its high school graduation rate is only 76 percent, according to the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University.

"If you can give them that taste, then they will have more confidence that they can go on and do it," said Derek Redelman, an education lobbyist for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

More than 15,000 Indiana high school students took courses at one of the state's public universities in the 2006-07 school year, the most recent for which data is available, according to the Indiana Commission on Higher Education.

That is only 3 percent of all public secondary students in Indiana, but it was a large enough group to prompt the Indiana General Assembly to form the Concurrent Enrollment Partnership, a dual-credit task force, during the 2008 legislative session.

"Dual credit has been around for a long time, but what's emerging is the fact that it's often necessary to give students extra supports for them to be successful in the college course," said David Dresslar, director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis.

Participants in this trend, Dresslar said, include the early college programs at Arsenal Tech and Ben Davis University High School, as well as the partnership between Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, a charter school, and Anderson University. Each of those programs provides college-level courses on the high school's campuses.

What distinguishes GEO's program, Teasley said, is that it actually takes kids to a college campus—Ivy Tech or sometimes IUPUI. Transportation and other support services make a big difference, he said, particularly among his students, most of whom are low-income minorities who will be the first in their families to earn college degrees.

"I was scared to death. I'm afraid of failure," said Abbey Lynn, recalling her first class at Ivy Tech. But when she graduates in May, Lynn will have 30 college credits she hopes to apply toward a dental hygiene degree at the University of Southern Indiana.

Teasley is pushing for donations in Indianapolis, as well as in Gary and Colorado Springs, Colo., where GEO also runs charter schools.

He wants to raise $200,000 this year for the two Indianapolis schools and ultimately, $550,000, or $1,000 per student.

His fund-raising pitch, he said, is bold and direct: "If you want to break the bonds of poverty, if you want to increase the high school graduation rate in your community [and] increase the work force pool of applicants in your community, we are doing that."

The students at Fall Creek Academy said they like the focus on college.

"I just want to have a job that's secure," said Joseph Patterson, a sophomore. "If I can get my degree faster, I can get a job faster."
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