States Get Enthusiastic Over Early High School Completion Programs

More states are adopting programs that offer financial incentives to students who complete high school in fewer than the traditional four years, Kimberly Railey of USA Today reports. Idaho, Minnesota, South Dakota, Utah and Indiana offer college scholarships for early high school graduations thanks to the savings districts are able to achieve in instructional costs.

According to a senior policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States, Jennifer Dounay Zinth, the growing number of early completion programs point to their popularity both among education officials and students. Although not all states report the numbers of early graduates, in Indiana alone 204 took advantage of the program last year – a dramatic increase from 17 the year before.

According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics, about 3% of high schoolers graduate early nationwide. About half the states in the country allow early graduations, although the number that encourage the practice is much smaller — but it is growing.

Now early high school graduation programs are getting a boost at the local level.

Dallas Independent School District, the second largest in Texas, is creating a three-year high school proposal that would direct savings to finance pre-kindergarten programs. If approved, the option likely would take effect for the 2014-15 school year.

A desire to better tailor the educational system to students’ needs is the motivation, proponents say.

It’s easy to see the benefits, as shaving time off high school could allow districts and states to realize substantial savings. In addition, many students don’t consider their senior year to be particularly academically rigorous, which means for at least some, sticking around makes little academic sense. As Dallas school board trustee Mike Morath puts it, for over-achievers who stuff their schedules with AP courses and college-prep classes, a four-year high school program provides real value. For the rest, that value is much more dubious.

But the drawbacks to accelerating high school may reveal themselves when a student enters college.

Ally Neal, who graduated at age 17 from Westwood High School in Mesa, Ariz., said it was difficult to connect with her Grand Canyon University classmates in Phoenix.

“When I was starting, I felt so grown-up, but now I don’t really know anyone,” she said.

Neal, now 20 and planning to attend law school next year, said her age will become less of an issue in the future — but she still will feel young when she completes college.

“It feels really weird,” she said. “I’ll graduate before I turn 21.”

07 30, 2013
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