Early college students prepare to join the work force

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Annabella Mireles

High schools such as W.H. Burges offer early college programs that help students graduate with not only a high school diploma, but also an associate degree, saving students time and money. El Paso Community College collaborates with school districts such as Canutillo, Clint, El Paso, Fabens, San Elizario, Socorro, Tornillo, and Ysleta.

Kristen Scheaffer, Staff Reporter

After completing the early college program provided by EPCC, Paulina Medrano will graduate, leaving them to receive their bachelor’s degree only two years after graduating high school.

“Early college high schools are opportunities for students in the public schools to earn their high school diploma and their associate’s degree during the time that they’re doing their high school work,” said Ivette Savina, assistant vice president for the AVP Student Outreach and Access. “So, in the end, they graduate with both, the high school diploma and a full associate’s degree.”

Students enroll into the program in eight grade and work on their associates until high school graduation, leaving them the oppertunity to receive their bachelor’s two years after their high school graduation.

“I kind of leaned into it because it was going to save me a lot of time and money,” said Itzel Torres, UTEP senior, when talking about why she chose early college high school.

Medrano said that she was persuaded by a close friend in the program and stuck it out, because it was something different.

Early college high school was started in 2006 in El Paso due to a joint effort between the Socorro independent school district and the El Paso Community College, according to Savina. Mission Early College High School was the first to open in El Paso expanding to add more colleges within the years, according to Savina.

Savina said that El Paso currently has 27 early college models with seven more due to open in the fall.

“I think it’s a testament to the students that have come through these programs, you know, that had made it; the bar is set at a certain point and the students just exceeded every single time,” said Martin Ramirez, program coordinator/manager for the AVP Student Outreach and Access and former early college graduate.

Torres used the term “bittersweet” to describe her experience, saying that it is a lot of work but the payoff was worth it in the end for her.

“Being a product of it, I really do think that as an eighth-grade student applying into the program, into the early college high school, you don’t really understand what a great opportunity it is,” Ramirez said. “As an eighth-grader, you hear about it and it sounds great, and that’s what gets you to be interested, but I don’t really think you grasp what a great opportunity it is until, you know, you’re really moving onto what’s next after high school.”

According to Ramirez, this spring, 169 early college alumni will be graduating with their degree from UTEP. A total of 22 of the 169 will be receiving their master’s degrees, three will be graduating from the PharmD program, and three receiving their doctorates.

“Through the work that the students are doing in their particular ISD and through the community college, some of our students are able to complete their associate’s degree by the end of their junior year in high school,” Savina said. “And so, what happens after that is that the students then have the opportunity, or the option, continuing their college coursework at UTEP.”

Kristen Scheaffer is a staff reporter and may be reached at [email protected]