D.C. pilot program would fast-track high school students to two-year bachelor's

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2010; 9:35 PM

A proposed partnership between the University of the District of Columbia and two D.C. public schools would enable a small number of motivated students to obtain a bachelor's degree two years after graduating from high school, one of the fastest baccalaureate tracks in higher education.

UDC President Allen Sessoms disclosed the prospective pilot with the School Without Walls and Wilson Senior High School in a meeting this week with the editorial board of The Washington Post.

"Only the best, most motivated kids are going to be able to do it," Sessoms said.

Under the proposed "2-plus-4" model, students from the two high schools would begin UDC classes in their junior year. The courses would earn dual credit at the high schools and the university. At the end of their senior year, the students would earn high school diplomas. Two years later, they would complete bachelor's degrees.

The accelerated degree is part of a larger effort by UDC to attract high-performing D.C. students to the public university. In fall 2009, UDC leaders created a new community college to separate two-year and remedial programs from the four-year school. Sessoms introduced admission standards and raised tuition to support more ambitious programs.

Sessoms told The Post on Tuesday that his idea draws from a similar initiative begun in fall 2009 at George Washington University. GWU's Early College Program puts a small number of School Without Walls students in college classes at the start of their junior year. By the end of senior year, the students have enough college credit to earn associate's degrees. They can then apply to the GWU bachelor's program or seek a transfer to another four-year school.

Both programs - the established model at GWU and the proposed pilot at UDC - offer students a chance to complete a four-year college education in half that time, an unusually rapid timeline. Many academic critics deride the idea of shortening college by even one year, as several three-year baccalaureate programs recently have done.

"This is cutting-edge for D.C. [public schools], and it's cutting-edge for much of the metro area," said Sheila Harris, a former School Without Walls principal and director of the GWU program.

A number of Washington area colleges partner with public schools. One model, known as Pathway to the Baccalaureate, guides students from Northern Virginia high schools through Northern Virginia Community College to George Mason University and other four-year institutions.

The program focuses on completion, not acceleration. Howard and Marymount universities offer an accelerated master's in teaching for students from neighboring public schools.

Although the UDC program remains in development, officials said it might launch next fall with 15 to 20 freshmen at each high school.

The students would pledge to participate in the 2-plus-4 program and would take the most challenging courses available in their first two years of high school as preparation.

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