OSU-OKC and Dove Science Academy team up for early college program

High school students Vanessa Ramos and Alexandra Molina spoke about their experiences with the EXCELerate Dove program offered through a partnership with Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City and Dove Science Academy. (Garett Fisbeck)

High school students Vanessa Ramos and Alexandra Molina spoke about their experiences with the EXCELerate Dove program offered through a partnership with Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City and Dove Science Academy. (Garett Fisbeck)

A partnership between Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City and Dove Science Academy that combines the final two years of high school and the first two years of college in a single two-year program seemed like a great idea on paper.

Modeled after other early college high school programs in the United States, the local program enables students to earn an associate’s degree nearly tuition-free while earning their high school diploma.

Additionally, after completing the program, students can continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

The program is likely to cut their four-year tuition bills in half, said Tracy Edwards, OSU-OKC associate vice president of academic affairs.

Edwards promoted the program’s potential to others in academia, and his on-paper concept adapted into reality during last spring’s parent meeting.

EXCELerate Dove offers high-performing, highly motivated students — many who come from low-income families and minority backgrounds — to rapidly achieve their academic dreams.

“Not only was every parent there, but siblings and grandparents,” Edwards said. “Seeing all the students in the cohort, plus all their family members smiling and nodding, that was the day I decided this was more than a good idea.”

On June 5, 17 Dove Science Academy students walked into an OSU-OKC classroom for a college algebra class.

The students, dually enrolled at the northwest OKC public charter school and the college, are tackling summer speech, art and algebra college courses.

In the fall, they will attend classes at Dove that will be taught by both OSU-OKC and Dove instructors.

By the end of the 2019 spring semester, students will have mastered a STEM-centric curriculum and completed the general education courses required at most universities.

“You have a group of students who are committed to a program,” Edwards said when asked of his observations two weeks in. “You have parents who are committed. You have a campus that is committed. You have a president [at OSU-OKC] and a [Dove] superintendent committed. … We will put another 17 people out who not only have a quality education, but a head start on their future.”

Unique opportunity

Earning college credits in high school is not a new concept.

For years, high school students have taken college courses and earned credit through various programs, including Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and concurrent enrollment in Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities.

What makes EXCELerate Dove different is the early college high school model, which accelerates learning through a rigorous high school-college course of study while also ensuring students graduate with an associate’s degree or more than 60 hours of college credit, Edwards said.

It’s a model that is gaining ground because advocates say the program is most effective among low-income and minority students, who are typically underrepresented among college-bound populations.

A 2013 study conducted by the American Institutes for Research found students who attended early college high schools held better high school graduation rates, high rates of postsecondary enrollment and higher rates of college degree attainment.

This spring, Texas Education Agency announced 41 new programs launching in the 2017-18 school year, raising the state total of early college high school programs to 198.

OSU-OKC and Dove leaders plan for the program to grow beyond the inaugural class and strive for it to serve as a model in Oklahoma, which has been slow to create early college high school programs.

Universal approval

Vanessa Ramos and Alexandra Molina began their Dove careers at the charter school’s elementary school. Since entering high school, their focus has been to prepare for a college career.

Thanks to EXCELerate Dove, the two 16-year-olds are getting a jump-start on their goals.

“Dove does a good job of preparing you,” said Molina, who plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree followed by a law degree. “You get used to asking teachers for help. I feel very prepared.”

Ramos pointed out the program also allows students to dig deeper into the academic subjects that already interest them.

The real benefit is financial, as college is expensive.

EXCELerate Dove allows her to contribute to the total cost of her college education.

“Getting all the hours of college in and finishing early is a plus,” said Ramos, who is interested in a career in aeronautical engineering or computer science.

EXCELerate Dove is popular among parents like Shawnta Grier. While Grier admits she initially was concerned about the rigorous course load, her daughter Jalen convinced her she could handle it.

“I feel like this is a blessing for her to be a part of,” said Grier, who has two older children attending college. “She will graduate high school with an associate’s. When she goes on for her bachelor’s, she wouldn’t take on as much [student loan] debt. … It is one less thing that we have to worry about. It is a blessing, and we are very grateful.”

Print headline: Head start, A unique local college and charter school program enables students to earn their high school diploma and an associate’s degree.

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