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Westfield State to turn grant into new program

Date: 1/9/2015

WESTFIELD – Westfield State University has received a $48,750 grant from the Patrick Administration to begin planning an Early College High School (ECHS) program in conjunction with Holyoke Community College (HCC), Westfield Vocational High School (WVHS) and Granby High School.

The ECHS model allows students to work towards college credit while still in high school and will be targeted at students “who experience disproportionate high school and college dropout rates,” according to the grant’s principal investigator Dr. Shelley Tinkham.

Tinkham, who serves as the interim dean of graduate and continuing education at Westfield State, said that these target students would be those who are underrepresented in higher education. This includes low-income students, students impacted by rural poverty, vocational high school students and students of color.

“This program has a lot of promise,” Tinkham said. “The Early College model questions the space between college and high school and where that space begins. This allows students to begin when they’re ready with the support of their high school.”

The 14-month planning stage would allow the program to roll out for Fall 2016. Ideally, Tinkham said, students would be identified for the program in their freshman year and could begin classes for credit as early as their sophomore year of high school.

If students earn 24 credits before high school graduation, they will be exempt from taking the SATs for admission into Westfield State. Students who earn 35 credits would be able to cut a full year out of their pursuit for a bachelor’s degree, completing it in three years.

The ECHS program addresses problems brought to light by the Vision Project Report, a report that identifies areas in which Massachusetts state high education can improve. One such area is college readiness.  

“There is a lack of communication between colleges and high schools about what it means to be ‘college ready,’” Tinkham said. “This program has college and high schools working together trying to solve a public policy problem.”

The program is entering 14 months of planning, and Tinkham said that the grant funding would be put solely towards the planning stages. The hope is that the program will be entirely self-sufficient. Tinkham said that those involved in the researching and planning of the ECHS program at Westfield State and HCC have studied North Essex Community College and Amesbury High School, another self-sufficient program.

Though they are using this program as a guide, the model at Westfield State and HCC will be unique and designed for their pool of students. Tinkham said that being self-sustaining is a crucial part of the planning phase.

“We have to do this ourselves so we have it in 20 years and it becomes a permanent part of our culture,” Tinkham said.

If the ECHS program succeeds at Westfield State, HCC, WFVHS and Granby High School, Tinkham said that it could change the landscape of education in the region.

“This has the potential to really shift how we deliver education and call into question some of our assumptions,” Tinkham said.