Will Success Spoil Early-College?

Rising Cuny enrollment means much-lauded campus high schools could get the boot

Unlike at most other city high schools, kids at Baruch College Campus High School arrive at school carrying their cell phones. They know that the security guards at the 12-story Baruch College building that houses their school don't care about the city Department of Education policy that bans phones. They're also different from students at many other high schools because they arrive ready to hunker down and learn—a mindset, they say, that comes from attending school in a college building, next to college students.

"It's a better learning environment to be around," says BCCHS senior Mary Georgescu. "You see that they're serious, and it puts you in the mood."

BCCHS is one of several high schools located on city university campuses. The space sharing is an example of the kind of collaboration between high schools and colleges that New York City has helped pioneer. Not only are more city public school graduates enrolling in City University of New York colleges—70 percent of the 35,000 first-time freshmen in the 17-campus system this year (up from 61 percent in 2002)—but city officials say the two school systems are also growing closer together.

Rachel Harris

"The boundaries between K-12 and 13-16 ought to be permeable," said city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein at a recent press conference with CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, held at Lehman College in the Bronx. "We're working together to create a truly K-16 school system."

What Klein and Goldstein didn't say at the press event was that the twin trends they championed—increased enrollment at city colleges and collaboration between universities and high schools—could actually be at odds with each other. As more students are attracted to CUNY's low price tag

and improving reputation, CUNY's colleges are increasingly competing for space and resources with their high school tenants, and some of the two systems' collaborative efforts have been put at risk.

For a long time, the most common relationship between city schools and CUNY colleges has been regressive: The vast majority of city public school graduates enrolling at CUNY's two-year colleges must pass remedial, high school–caliber classes before they can start on college work. The DOE and CUNY are working together to figure out how to prepare students better for college work, which is one reason that they're so enthusiastic about schools, such as BCCHS, that offer college-level classes while students are still in high school.

Currently, more than 30 city high schools offer some variation on the model embodied by BCCHS. The schools fall into three basic types. First are schools, such as BCCHS, that emerged organically, and sometimes haphazardly, from relationships between college and high school leaders. One of those, Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College, became the model for the second type of school, expressly intended to make college feel accessible for students not typically considered college-bound.

In the third kind of school, the "early-college" model, students take multiple college classes while still in high school, earning as much as two years of college credit before graduation. New York City is home to a dozen early-college schools, most of which have opened in the last few years. Although the model is considered too new to have generated reliable data about its success in preparing students for college, President Barack Obama touted early-college schools in his major education speech in March. And Klein and Goldstein recently announced that a career-oriented early-college school would open in September, in partnership with Brooklyn's City Tech.

But as the CUNY system swells to more than a quarter of a million students for the first time this fall, several colleges are struggling to find space for their own students. Most of the system's campuses were built when the system had 20 percent fewer students, according to CUNY spokesman Michael Arena. In a sprawling system where colleges make major decisions autonomously, Goldstein's vision of collaboration might not always be able to compete with space constraints and budget pressures.

The enrollment boom is part of the reason that Middle College High School, the progenitor of the city's entire college-in-high-school movement, could be displaced from its home on LaGuardia Community College's Long Island City campus this fall. Founded in 1974 as one of the city's earliest alternative high schools, Middle College has long sublet a building that the college rents from a private owner. LaGuardia's lease expires this spring, and it isn't being renewed. Anticipating 10 percent more students this fall, LaGuardia has told the DOE that it won't be able to let Middle College join the two other DOE schools elsewhere on its campus. Parents and students have said they worry that a move could be a debilitating blow to the high school, which spawned a national consortium of schools premised on sharing space with colleges. The Middle College National Consortium, based in Long Island City, now operates 20 schools in 10 states, including three in New York City.

The disconnect between vision and reality is even starker at Baruch College, where, as president in the 1990s, Goldstein masterminded the creation of BCCHS. After more than a decade in operation, BCCHS is currently preparing to vacate its home on the 10th floor of its Baruch building on Lexington Avenue and 23rd Street.

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