Round Rock early college high school FAQs

RRC_CampusShot1_700x268Austin Community College and the Round Rock Independent School District will open an early college high school at ACC’s Round Rock Campus on August 23.

The school ― to be named later by RRISD’s Board of Trustees ― will launch with about 100 ninth-graders in a village setting with six portable buildings behind Building 3000 (southeast side of campus). Incoming students will be added each year, with a maximum of 500 students in grades 9 -12 by fall 2019.

ECHS students will use some space in Building 2000. ACC will convert the Marketplace vending space to a workout room that will be equipped by RRISD and used to meet state physical education requirements for high school students. ACC fitness classes may use the space and equipment when ECHS classes are not scheduled. Vending machines will be moved to another portion of the student commons area.

Longer term, ACC and RRISD will discuss construction of a permanent building on the campus for the program.

Following are responses to questions about the new school.

Why do we have ECHS programs on ACC campuses?

ECHS has proven to be an effective gateway to higher education and careers, particularly for underserved groups. About 75 percent of the 75,000 students in early college high schools nationwide are African-American or Latino. More than 77 percent of ECHS students pursue a college education after high school, a huge increase over their non-ECHS peers.

In Texas, House Bill 5 has fueled a surge in ECHS programs as school districts work to meet requirements for preparing students equally for postsecondary education or the workforce.

ACC’s existing ECHS programs have been successful and participation is growing. ECHS programs at Austin’s Reagan and LBJ high schools have helped transform two struggling high schools with virtually no dual credit offerings into stronger schools that have enabled hundreds of low-income, first-generation-college, and at-risk students earn credit toward a degree.

Why not locate the ECHS at a district high school?

While the ECHS model has varied somewhat as it has expanded across the state and nation, the most successful model in terms of student retention, persistence, and completion is one where the ECHS is located entirely on a college campus and ECHS students are fully integrated into regular college classes and activities.

Students will take their ninth grade classes in the portable village classrooms. Once eligible for dual credit, however, students will take these classes with “regular” ACC Round Rock Campus students, just as our existing ECHS students do. Manor, Bastrop, and Elgin ECHS students take all of their dual credit courses at ACC’s Elgin Campus, while Reagan and LBJ ECHS students take their dual credit courses at the Highland Campus.

Students get the full benefit of the program when they are fully immersed in a college’s culture, intellectual life, and educational resources. They interact with adult students, are held to high expectations, and assume a level of responsibility that fully prepares them for life after high school.

The campus community will benefit also, with school district faculty, staff, and students bringing new ideas and energy to the campus.

In what other ways might ACC benefit from having the ECHS on the Round Rock Campus?

As a result of the ECHS partnership, the Round Rock Campus will gain access to the Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network (GAATN). The GAATN fiber optic cable network connects the sites of the GAATN participants (AISD, ACC, City of Austin, Lower Colorado River Authority, Travis County, State of Texas Department of Information Resources, and the University of Texas at Austin). The network design ensures the system remains operational in the event of a disaster such as cable cuts, which can put existing leased networks out of service for days or weeks. Currently, the Round Rock Campus is not connected to the GAATN.

Will ECHS students use the Learning Lab, library, student commons area, and testing center?

Yes, ECHS students are considered regular ACC students and will have full access to campus resources and services for academic support, including the Learning Lab, Library, and Student Commons. It’s an important benefit of the program. The ACC College-High School Office has full-time personnel to help manage the advising and student support needs of the ECHS students.

Should students as young as 15 years old be taking classes on a college campus?

Having high school students on ACC campuses is not new. The college has served thousands of dual-credit students on its campuses for more than 15 years. In addition, Career Academy students currently attend classes at the Highland and Eastview campuses. There are numerous examples of successful ECHS programs across the state and nation. The first on-campus ECHS in Texas opened at Houston Community College-Southwest in 2003 and has resulted in thousands of students obtaining associate degrees, transferring to prestigious universities, and earning millions of dollars in scholarships.

Most college campuses with an early college high school report no major behavioral or safety issues. ECHS students must be motivated, academically prepared, well-behaved and have the approval of their high school principal and/or counselor. They are forgoing activities like athletics and band for the opportunity to challenge themselves with college-level coursework. Those who don’t meet the standards of academic performance and student behavior established by their high school and ACC risk being dropped from the program.

What about safety, particularly given new laws regarding guns on campus?

ACC is committed to creating a safe and secure environment for all students, employees, and visitors. Ninth-grade students in the portable village will be accompanied by ECHS staff to other areas of the campus as needed.

ACC has until August 2017 to determine how it will apply the campus carry law. As it establishes policies, it will consider the nature of its student population, including dual-credit and early college high school students.

Will there be sufficient parking? What about food services?

ACC expects many ECHS students to take advantage of bus transportation to the school. A large influx of additional cars is not anticipated; however, the college will continually re-evaluate student drop-off locations and any impact on parking and traffic.

ACC is working through the necessary agreements to allow RRISD-provided food trucks to sell to the entire campus community after ECHS students are served.

Who funds the ECHS?

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) currently requires that ECHS be free to students; it is essentially a two-year scholarship.

ACC and Round Rock ISD are splitting the costs of setting up the program, and both entities will receive state funding to support instruction for ECHS students. RRISD is paying for the portable buildings, including the electricity. RRISD also will pay the costs of all textbooks and pay ACC a set amount for each student in a dual-credit class. Both agree the program is worth the investment to increase students’ likelihood of completing college, lifting students’ lifetime earning potential, and helping them become active participants in civic life.

Future financial support for the program, like all budgetary matters, is impacted by the state funding ACC receives. The college likely will revisit current funding models after the next legislative session, which begins in January.

Does this change how we comply with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act?

The same FERPA rules apply to ECHS students as other dual-credit students. Rights under FERPA transfer to the student when they enroll at a postsecondary institution. If the student is enrolled in both a high school and a college, however, the two institutions may exchange information on that student. If the student is under 18, parents may review any records sent by the postsecondary institution to the high school.

A soon-to-be-hired ACC ECHS specialist will be located at the campus to manage the students’ advising and other Student Services needs.

For further questions about the Round Rock early college high school, contact Stephen Clifton, ECHS program manager, sclifton@austincc.edu; Dr. Melissa Biegert, ECHS director, melissa.biegert@austincc.edu; or Dr. Shasta Buchanan, executive director of high school relations, shasta.buchanan@austincc.edu.

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