Tuolumne County Office of Education
Ensuring that all students are prepared for careers, college and life is a tall order for our nation’s high schools. In Tuolumne County, a collaborative effort between Sonora Union High School District and a local community college is creating pathways to a better future through a program that enables high school students to take college-level classes.
No longer a benefit reserved only for college-bound students seeking more challenging classes, dual enrollment programs offer all students an opportunity to improve their odds of graduating high school and finding post-secondary success.
Developed in 2008, the Middle College program grew out of a desire to offer an alternative to traditional high school for students who were under-challenged in school, wanted a more mature learning environment, were credit deficient or wanted more of an academic challenge.
“We’re opening pathways for students to access college while in high school, to begin their journey to a college experience,” said Margie Bulkin, Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools.
The program has grown in popularity over the years as it prepares juniors and seniors for their post-secondary goals, whether that involves a career or college. Students work very closely with guidance counselors at both their high school and at Columbia College, a local community college, to make sure they stay on track.
Students in the program are required to take two classes at Sonora High School, then can take additional classes for no cost at Columbia College. More than 250 students have taken Middle College courses since the program’s inception.
Superintendent Bulkin said students “have a new sense of ownership of their own learning. It’s a K-14 view of education. The building blocks have always existed, and the diploma as we know it is now perhaps un-applicable in the new economy where academic and technical skills are the new currency. Programs such as Middle College help students to better access college and/or career opportunities while in high school, and it is my hope that every high school student take at least one college course during high school to get one foot into their intended career goal.”
Middle College Program Coordinator Courtney Castle said she has seen students “who were disinterested in education become inspired to learn.” Students who never thought college was an option discover that it can be. Students can also take classes that will help them explore various careers and meet early prerequisites.
The program also helps students become eligible to apply to a university, a critically important achievement in a county where just 18.8 percent of graduates met CSU/UC entrance requirements in 2013-14, well below the statewide average of 41.9 percent.
Students can work toward an associate degree or certificate and become ready to transfer to a university upon graduation, or gain workforce training. The 53 students enrolled in Middle College this year are taking 86 scholastic courses and five career technical education courses, Castle said.
Research shows that Tuolumne County is clearly on the right track. According to information provided to CCSESA by Hanover Research, one common way states across the nation align secondary career technical education and postsecondary programs is through early college high schools and dual enrollment programs.
Several studies have shown that participation in career-technical dual enrollment can improve performance on a number of college outcomes. A 2012 study by Teachers College in New York went further, showing that dual enrollment is also an effective intervention for students who might otherwise drop out of high school. The study of dual enrollment programs for low-income youth in California found that students were more likely to graduate from high school and transition to a four-year college, and more likely to stick with it once they got there.
Superintendent Bulkin, who also serves as a board member of the Columbia College Foundation, chairs a quarterly conference between the college president and deans and the high school superintendents and principals involved in the program that helps build the relationships that are central to the success of the program.
When those strong relationships are combined with a clear vision and an authentic college-going experience, dual enrollment programs can help launch students into a rewarding life after high school.
For More Information:
• Columbia College’s admission policies for high school students: Click Here
• Information about Sonora High School’s Middle College program: Click Here
• Application for Middle College: Click Here
• Tuolumne County’s high school graduation requirements: Click Here
• “Dual Enrollment for All” from Teachers College includes research showing how to ensure best outcomes for students: Click Here