High school students flocking to community colleges, but some students left out

Professor David Thomas helps a student in a Fullerton College architecture class. The college has changed policies to enroll more high school students throughout the year.
Professor David Thomas helps a student in a Fullerton College architecture class. The college has changed policies to enroll more high school students throughout the year.
Linda Briney/Courtesy of Fullerton College

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The growth in high school student enrollment at Fullerton College could be called a stampede. In 2011, according to the community college, 822 high school students took classes at the campus after their school day or during the summer session. Three years later that figure had nearly doubled to 1,587.

College Registrar Rena Martinez credits the enrollment increase to a decision by Fullerton College’s board of trustees to waive tuition for high school students, and to increase training of area high school counselors to help students enroll.

“The end goal is to let students get an experience of college,” said Martinez.

College administrators believe that shot of self-confidence on a college campus will help high school students when they return to this or another college campus after high school graduation.

Santa Monica College is seeing the same high school student enrollment boom. Teresita Rodriguez, who oversees enrollment, says letting high school students take college classes is also good for the college because it graduates students quicker.

“The ability to prepare students earlier for college is what I think is going to have the most impact in shortening the time to completion,” she said.

But according to Rodriguez and other educators, the community college programs are not attracting the students that need the classes most.  The high school students have to jump through a lot of hoops to enroll at community college-  testing at a middle college level to take math or English college classes, and signatures are required from a parent, a high school counselor, and a college counselor.  And high school students can only take advanced scholastic courses.

As a result many of the high school students who enroll are high achievers,  like 14 year old Madeline McCanne, who's taking an astronomy class at Fullerton College.

“In 10th grade, which is what I will this coming year, I will be taking two AP physics and AP world history but I would still like to take some over the summer so that I can have a total of about 15 or so,” she said.

Graduating high school with 15 AP courses will put her way ahead.

So while the community college doors are open for her, they're not for the high school students who are likely to end up in community college, in need of  remedial education.

Statewide, nearly a third of first year community college students were not ready for college math and even more weren’t ready for college English. They had to take remedial classes.

“Do I have the courses available, yes, but can they take those while they’re still in high school, no?” Teresita Rodriguez said about the remedial class offerings at Santa Monica College.

She says a state bill making its way through Sacramento could  bring more community college resources to struggling high school students.

 “High schools need community colleges and community colleges need high schools,” said Pasadena-area state assemblyman Chris Holden, the author of the bill.

He wants to give community colleges and school districts the power to offer more high school students college classes at the high school or at the college.

“It is designed in such a way where high school students could conceivably graduate high school with their high school diploma as well as their AA degree as well,” he said.

In that future the walls that separate the community college and the high school campus could come tumbling down.