For 23 high school juniors in El Paso, Texas, this spring presented an early opportunity to don caps and gowns – and make history.
The first Mission Early College High School (MECHS) students participated in a commencement ceremony at El Paso Community College in May, when they received associate’s degrees while still juniors in high school and more than a year before earning their high school diplomas.
The 23 ambitious students of MECHS, located on the El Paso Community College Mission campus, are part of a nationwide Early College High School (ECHS) initiative that enables underserved students to attend high school while simultaneously obtaining up to 60 hours of dual college credit for free.
ECHS programs provide university-style courses taught by professors and allow the students access to campus resources. Largely funded through the Texas High School Project (THSP), a public-private alliance, the initiative provides a seamless transition from high school to college and universities. Based at Communities Foundation of Texas, THSP receives major funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, The Meadows Foundation, the Greater Texas Foundation and the Texas Education Agency.
"We are so proud of these students, who are well on their way to a brighter future as a result of their hard work and dedication," said John Fitzpatrick, executive director, THSP. "Early college high schools in Texas are proving that students once considered at risk or high-need can achieve unprecedented success
when challenged with high expectations and support. Early college high schools can make college a reality for these students, who often will be the first in their families to attend college."
Take, for instance, Andrea Magaña, who fled from Mexico City with her family when she was six, after her father was kidnapped and robbed at gunpoint. Ten years later, she is one of the top students in her MECHS class, with a 100 GPA in high school and a 4.0 GPA in her college-level classes. "Every teacher knows you can do better and pushes you," Andrea said. "But you know at the end, they’re doing it because they actually care about you."
Early college high schools provide highly motivated students the opportunity to earn a high school diploma and up to the first two years of college in a span of usually four years, saving them the cost of tuition and textbooks. The El Paso students completed the associate’s degree program in three years.
To learn more, visit www.thsp.org.