Do I have to finish high school? This question is one that I asked when I was (much) younger. I have heard it asked — directly and indirectly — by a whole range of people since then. And, as the high school year draws to a close, I suspect there are those asking it — though they may ask it in different ways as summer concludes.
For me, the answer was, unquestionably, yes. The decision to remain in high school (insofar as it was a decision) went unquestioned in part as an affirmative injunction about the importance of high school (where I admit I learned a lot). It also went unquestioned for me because no one I knew had heard of any alternative beyond the disreputable one: dropping out. And yet, there was an alternative, even then — one that offers enhanced educational opportunity rather than less educational opportunity. Often labeled early entrance, colleges and universities across the country offered opportunities to leave high school for . . . . college . . . without a high school degree. Such programs were created in the mid-1950s and were funded in large measure by a Ford Foundation initiative. Young people — who were deemed ready for college could start . . . . whenever they were ready. It seemed and seems a radical idea (though it might also be understood as a return to mid-19th century institutionalizations of education).
Today, experiencing college “early” is possible through dual enrollment agreements and other routes. One can, that is, take a college course by taking one at a local college while still enrolled in high school. And, even today, there is a way to simply and completely leave high school and go to college, to as it were, accelerate. This option continues to be available in a variety of locales, including right here in Chicago.
Recently, Vicki Cobb wrote about the experience of being an early entrant at the University of Wisconsin on Huffington Post. As she noted in her title: “I Was a High School Dropout (It’s Not What You Think).” You can read the full article here. And you can check out the Acceleration Institute which both studies those who become early entrants and provides some resources for those of you who want to leave high school early — dropping into college rather than dropping out of high school.
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