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College can start in high school

In neighborhoods across Chicago, there are thousands of young people with unlimited potential. Each one of them deserves a chance to succeed. We know that education is the pathway to their future. So it is incumbent on all of us to give our children that opportunity.

Over the past three years, we have made tremendous progress in the high school graduation rate for Chicago Public Schools. Just three years ago, barely half of CPS students were graduating. Today, it is a completely different story. Last year, 65 percent of CPS students graduated. And a recent study by the University of Chicago found that 82 percent of this past year’s freshmen are on track to graduate.

While this is good news, we will not be satisfied until more of our high school graduates go on to a higher education. Earning a college degree has never been more important to succeeding in a career. According to a recent Pew Research study, people between the ages of 25 and 32 who have a college degree typically earn $17,500 more each year for full-time work than those with only a high school diploma. This income gap has been widening since the 1960s.

So the question is how to ensure more CPS graduates into college. And the answer starts with the City Colleges of Chicago. Today, approximately 25 percent of CPS students enroll at the City Colleges and 50 percent of City College associate degree candidates are CPS graduates. This past year, City College students successfully transferred to dozens of colleges and universities after completing their two-year associate degree.

To encourage more Chicago high school graduates to attend college, CPS and the City Colleges have joined together to give students their first taste of college while still in high school. How? By forming an innovative partnership to expand the number of dual credit and dual enrollment opportunities we offer to our students. These opportunities give high school students their first exposure to college-level courses. They learn quickly that they are fully capable of succeeding in college. And at a time when the rising cost puts college out of reach for many families, our partnership enables students to earn college credit without accumulating debt.

Dual credit and dual enrollment students enter college with coursework already completed and credits that count toward their degree. The credits they earn while still in high school are fully transferable to most two-year and four-year colleges. If a dual enrollment student chooses to attend our City Colleges for the first two years of their degree before transferring to a four-year institution, they can save up to $40,000 toward a bachelor’s degree.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has recognized the success of this partnership and has really urged us to work more closely together with a goal of expanding the number of CPS students who participate in the dual credit and dual enrollment program. In 2011, there were only 300 seats available in the Dual Enrollment program. But starting next school year, 3,100 CPS students will be able to enroll in free college-level courses at our City Colleges. And the Dual Credit program, through which students can enroll in college-level courses taught by qualified CPS teachers on high school campuses, will serve another 1,000 students at 38 CPS high schools next year. This expansion will bring the total number of CPS students enrolling in City Colleges courses up to as many as 4,100. The mayor understands, as do we, that while receiving a high school diploma is something that we should all applaud, earning a college degree is our students’ ultimate goal.

This program will also continue the upward trend in the number of students graduating from City Colleges. In 2011, just 7 percent of City College students graduated — one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation. Today, the percentage of graduates has nearly doubled and is on track to reach 20 percent by 2018. This is one of the fastest graduation growth rates in America. And it is only the beginning of what is possible for Chicago’s students.

It is our guiding principle that every child from every neighborhood across Chicago is entitled to the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. And in today’s global economy, a college degree is more important than ever in gaining the opportunity for a good job and successful career. By expanding this trailblazing partnership between CPS and CCC, we will shorten the path to a college degree for more of Chicago’s children and give them a better chance to succeed in college — and in life.

Cheryl L. Hyman is chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago. Barbara Byrd-Bennett is CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.



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