In 1974, an innovative educational dream became a reality. Middle College High School, a public secondary school committed to meeting the academic, vocational and affective needs of under-served youth, opened its doors on the campus of LaGuardia Community College in New York City. The dream was grand: To provide a seamless secondary post-secondary educational continuum, use innovative curricula and pedagogy, and create a small nurturing environment. The mix of these elements together with the power of a dynamic high school – college partnership, would produce an exciting path to learning for students who have traditionally been the least well served by public education.
The intent was noble: To decrease the high school dropout rate and increase the college-going and completion rate. The location of the high schools on college campuses would symbolically signal these under-served students that a college education was possible and the natural, logical next step. Their fellow students would be college students with similar socioeconomic backgrounds who overcame similar obstacles. Financially both institutions would profit from the cost effective sharing of resources and a reduction in college level remediation courses.
Transforming the dream into a reality was complex. An educational collaboration between a high school and a college required two traditionally closed institutions to examine the assumptions that had allowed each to exist as if the other did not. Such a collaboration needed the financial, administrative and programmatic support to create a hybrid institution of learning for underserved youth. A dedicated, visionary, administrators and faculty came forward, pursued the dream and persisted in making it a reality. The dropout rate decreased, attendance and passing course pass rates increased, graduation rates exceeded 80%, and college-going rates soared to more than 85%.
Replication money from the Ford Foundation helped seed six other schools, and within a decade there were more than 20+ Middle College high schools on college campuses throughout the country.
In 1993, with financial support from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, an informal network of Middle Colleges came together as the Middle College National Consortium (MCNC), a professional development organization for secondary and post-secondary public-sector educators. Today, the Consortium provides technical assistance and support to both new and established Middle College High Schools as they implement educational reforms via MCNC’s Design Principles, and engage in professional activities designed to help under-performing students meet high academic standards. Member schools participate in a Critical Friends Review every five years, students meet annually to discuss issues that affect their lives and communities, and educators meet twice yearly for professional development and technical assistance. In 2002, the Consortium launched its Early College Initiative. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Ford Foundation, the Early College project redesigns existing Middle Colleges and helps open new schools committed to offering students an accelerated course of study enabling them to earn an Associates Degree or two years of transferable college credits, at no cost to students.
Since its inception, the Consortium has:
- Fostered a culture of self-reflection and review that ensures high levels of accountability.
- Established forums to provoke dialogue that challenges traditional assumptions about teaching and learning.
- Created, adopted, disseminated and institutionalized successful guidance programs and academic initiatives.
Middle College High Schools and Early College High Schools are supported by funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.