kitchen table math, the sequel: Early College

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Early College

We just found out that someone from my son's high school will be going to Simon's Rock, which is part of Bard College. Does anyone have any comments about this college or how well early college works? Simon's Rock appears to be the only early college that's accredited.

It seems to me that a better (cheaper) way would be to take a lot of AP classes in high school and find a college that accepts those credits. Then again, don't many colleges give you only one semester credit for a full year AP class? Does anyone know of colleges where you can graduate a year early just because of AP classes? Would it be better to take classes from a local community college than to take AP classes? Do some high schools pay for college classes?

I suppose that colleges do not like accepting high school credits because that's kind of like saying that some of their courses are at a high school level. Then again, they might not like accepting credits from community colleges either. However, many state universities have specific paths that allow community college students a (no loss) transfer path after two years.

I can see that in some cases, AP classes are not as strong as those in college. However, I think that many high school students can handle very high level college classes. For my son, I see AP classes as ways to show that he is a strong college prospect, not as a way to graduate college early. But what if students take online classes provided by a college like MIT? Will MIT allow that student to graduate early or to just get advanced placement? Is a college degree all about time or some particular level of learning? A degree is based on degree requirements and number of credits, but colleges don't seem to give away those credits as easily as advanced placement.


linsee said...

My son (he's 40 now) started college in the summer after ninth grade; he'd been in the Johns Hopkins math program and then took AP calc as a high school freshman. Then we dragged him off to Shanghai for a sabbatical year and he studied Chinese at my university there (no American high school nearby). Then he enrolloed in college when we got back. (With enough credits to graduate in three years plus a couple of summer-school courses.

Not typical, obviously; but our (and his) view was that skipping three years of the toxic American high school environment was an unalloyed blessing. No social problems -- apart from those that normally accompany being "severely gifted" (our school district's term) and autistic (undiagnosed until much later). College students cared not at all about his age, while high school students cared very much, negatively, about many non-academic characteristics.

Anonymous said...

We just found out that someone from my son's high school will be going to Simon's Rock, which is part of Bard College. Does anyone have any comments about this college or how well early college works?

Early college seems to work well for some very bright students and not so well for others. A lot depends on the independence of the kid and how easily they make friends of different ages. It can be very lonely being obviously the youngest one in the cohort. A lot also depends on who else is around—small unpredictable differences matter more than early/late college.

It seems to me that a better (cheaper) way would be to take a lot of AP classes in high school and find a college that accepts those credits. Then again, don't many colleges give you only one semester credit for a full year AP class?

Most high school AP classes are indeed paced at half the speed of corresponding college courses, though there is enough variation in both AP courses and college courses that this is not something to rely on.

Does anyone know of colleges where you can graduate a year early just because of AP classes? Would it be better to take classes from a local community college than to take AP classes? Do some high schools pay for college classes?

Many colleges will give enough AP credit to graduate a year early (particularly second-tier public colleges). Whether community college courses or AP courses are better varies enormously from place to place, depending in part on the local variations in who is allowed/encouraged to take such courses. Some high schools in some states pay for community college courses, but they are often strict gatekeepers, requiring students to exhaust all the high school offerings first (even though the high school courses may be too low level and too slow for the student).

But what if students take online classes provided by a college like MIT? Will MIT allow that student to graduate early or to just get advanced placement? Is a college degree all about time or some particular level of learning? A degree is based on degree requirements and number of credits, but colleges don't seem to give away those credits as easily as advanced placement.

No, MIT is clear that they will not give credit for edX courses, and that they think the in-person experience of being at MIT adds a lot that the on-line courses cannot provide. I believe that they are correct.

College is about learning, but a lot of learning happens through in-person experiences that are difficult to emulate in on-line courses and not measurable by exams. Colleges reasonably want students to spend enough time on campus that the expected number of these in-person experiences is high.

Jo in OKC said...

I think the PEG program by Mary Baldwin is also an accredited early college.

You might also want to look at the state science and math high schools. The Texas Academy of Math & Science is on campus at UNT and high school students take the UNT classes and do research with the UNT professors. If a student continues on to a Texas state school (or stays at UNT) everything transfers. Some students choose to start over as freshmen at super selective schools.

The question of community college vs AP vs CLEP varies pretty dramatically depending on which college you're interested in.

We took the position that graduating early from college was not something we were interested in for our daughter. She started college at 17 and I feel that 21 is young enough to graduate. Others feel differently. At her college, a senior this year is graduating at 18.

She did take significant numbers of AP classes and college level courses. She's gotten placement but not credit for any of it and it's worked out well.

Portlander said...

With all due respect...

College is about networking, and a lot of networking happens through in-person experiences that are not emulated in on-line courses and not measurable by exams. Colleges reasonably want students to spend enough time on campus that the expected number of these in-person network connections is high.

Seriously. Not being a troll. If you look at the Ivy's; what they select for in their admissions, what is expected academically from their students, and where their students land professionally, you'll realize college isn't too far removed from medieval guilds.

SteveH said...

Thanks for the comments.

I have no interest in having my son go to a college like this, and I also expect only partial advanced placement and not early graduation for all of the AP classes he will have taken by then (probably 9). I was just interested to find out what others have to say, since this is the first time I've heard of this school.

My general feeling is that you don't get something for nothing. It's not as if their early students have already taken high school calculus, physics and chemistry. They will use up credits to take those courses (however rigorous they are), leaving little time for other courses in the first two years. For those who stay in high school and take AP classes, many more advanced or alternative courses are available, especially if you want to minor in another area.

SteveH said...

"College is about networking.."

You can do that at a lot of colleges, assuming that you know what you are interested in. When I was in college, the University of Utah was THE place for computer graphics. I was at the U. of Michigan and that was another hotbed of computers and computer graphics. This was the mainframe era when computer graphics was done on things like the Tektronix terminal.

You can also make connections in graduate school. Many fancy colleges are much easier to get into as grad students. Also, many universities push their undergrads to go elsewhere for their advanced degrees.

Anonymous said...

Bard College may be the only college that exclusively caters to kids who go to college early, but a number of colleges have these sorts of programs ( eg, USC). Wikipedia has an list.

I went off to college (twenty years ago) with almost a full year of credits cobbled together from AP classes, junior college classes, a USF sponsored/ accredited course taught at my high school and San Jose State University classes offered at night. It was nice to transfer the units, but large portions of my high school years are a blur and I'd be very cautious about recommending this route.

Today, a number of colleges offer on line courses for credit (eg, ASU) and these can probably be taken by high school juniors and seniors.

-Mark Roulo

momof4 said...

I'd like to see more states offer MN'S PSEO (post-secondary enrollment options) program, which allows qualified kids (mostly juniors and seniors) to take courses at the local CC or 4-yr school of their choice and for which their school district pays. It's really an outstanding option. It's important to know that some colleges are funny about accepting the credits, however, in that some consider them HS courses if the district pays but college courses if the student pays. My daughter's best friend's sister discovered that Harvard did that; fortunately before she enrolled. Her family was able to pay the tuition, so she started at Harvard as a full sophomore. My son took 3 semesters of German at a CC with a highly-regarded German prof; going right to honors third-year German at university.I also know of kids who never entered HS, but went right to CC and then to university. They were very bright and motivated, but not the kind of kids who would enjoy the HS social scene.

Three of my kids went to flagship state schools, and all started as full sophomores, from their AP scores, and were in the honors colleges. They mostly used their APs to fulfill fr-soph distribution requirements. My DD used AP Spanish to start her minor with the next-level courses, and one son used AP econ in the same way, en route to an econ major. (The fourth kid went to a tiny, highly specialized school which doesn't take any APs, but he could have started as a sophomore at most schools). Even if you don't use APs to skip into coursework, having the credits for sophomore (or second-semester freshman) is very useful, because registration priorities are usually by numbers of credits earned.

momof4 said...

One of my kids did a 5-yr bachelor's-master's accounting program in four years. The other two could have graduated a year early, but one triple-majored and the other did 3 semesters as a TA and 3 semesters with an internship (both of which were-and still are- invaluable additions to her resume).

HS AP classes vary widely. At my older kids' HS, they were absolutely college level, with the sciences having two full periods every day. However, APs required honors prereqs, so all kids were well-prepared for the real college work. Kids who couldn't get into the sciences (one class each subject, n=36) or who hadn't taken the honors, and who went to a local college often ended up with a less-rigorous class (according to my kids, who saw the text and assignments).

lgm said...

Our experience is that AP is a higher level than the CC or the state U's early college in the high school program. Ymmv on this one.

The school district here pushes college credit and has cancelled IB and some AP, promoting dual enrollment with the local CC and SUNY Albany's Early College in the High School Program. However, many colleges won't transfer the credits, specifically in mathematics, stating that a 'college course taken on a high school campus with other high school students' will not be acceptable for credit transfer. So, an advanced student will have to plan on testing out at a four-year U, unless he plans on going to a SUNY school that will transfer the local CC's courses in. So far the local CC's courses are not sufficient prep for a STEM major, but there is no other live class option locally as no one will allow a 14 or 15 year old that is not a junior or senior to take a course for credit on their campus.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Minnesota's PSEO option is access. If a student lives "outstate" it is not practical to drive 45 miles + both directions to a class at a state college or university. It is a fine option if you are in the Twin Cities Metro area or close to one of the state colleges but for more rural areas, options are limited. The first year classes at our Technical College (CC equivalent) are taught at a lower level of rigor than AP expectations because its typical student are aiming for a technical certification, not an academic college degree. Of course, our local district's AP track record is dismal too... and the School Board doesn't feel it needs to address that at all.

Anonymous said...

This is very much a "it depends" issue.

If one is planning on going to a state school, especially one with a large number of required gen-ed courses, then it is wise to take college-credit-bearing versions of such things before entering college and spending four years taking real courses instead of taking up time with the gen-ed dreck. If one's high school waters down the AP courses by teaching them at a slow pace (one year for a one-semester course), then that's sub-optimal. Odds are that some of the courses taught at the local community college are taught by the same TAs and adjuncts who teach the intro-level gen-ed courses at the local university or state college.

If one goes to go to an excellent school where all the courses are excellent, then it hardly matters.

Alternatively, one could use one's AP/intro-CC courses as the start of an associate's degree in something useful, like electrician training or barbering, and then can attend a four-year college after acquiring a marketable skill. You always hear engineers whinging about offshoring of software development and about H1-Bs taking their jobs; you don't really see much in the way of electricians coming here from India.

ChemProf said...

I think a majority of schools will let you do up to a year with AP credit, but you have to do your research. Most limit it to a year.

And yes, be aware that most AP courses are only equivalent to a one-semester college course -- the pace is much slower in high school.

Standford has a nice page listing its AP policies, and most schools have an equivalent page somewhere, but the policies vary a lot. At Harvey Mudd, for example, I got college credit for English AP (which did me no good, as I graduated with many more units than I needed), but still had to take the first semester English course (and my own institution does the same now).

SteveH said...

Simon's Rock definitely won't save you money or take fewer than four years. If you go in at a high school junior age, you would not take the same level of courses compared to those taken if you had stayed in high school for two more years. And I would guess that for most STEM careers, you will have to take an extra semester or have to skip other classes you really want to take.

The advantage may be to save two years of your life or save you from a bad high school. Saving two years is an interesting angle, but you don't get something for nothing unless the high school was really bad. Getting a degree two years early is an interesting idea, but I think it would be better to save the time on the other end by trying to get credit for AP classes; assuming you plan and pick a college where you can do that. You could save money by staying in high school, but still finish college early.

Anonymous said...

Simon's Rock is a small liberal arts college. If you are dedicated and certain that your child must have a STEM career, you are unlikely to send your kid to a small liberal arts college. Comparing Simon's Rock to MIT or CalTech is pretty useless; they're not the same kind of place. Compare it to Williams or Bowdoin instead. It's a small liberal arts college, like many others, except that the students are younger. If you don't want your kid to go to a small liberal arts college, forget about it.

Here are some of the strengths of Simon's Rock
-Very small classes. There are no large lecture classes. The largest classes would qualify as seminars at other schools, and the seminars might only have four or five students and the professor.
-High level peers. Instead of trying hard to find an intellectual group at college (a la Charlotte Simmons), just about every student at Simon's Rock is brilliant.
-Ready transferability. Many (at one time, most) students transfer to another college after two years, typically with 100% acceptance of coursework.
-No more high school. For many kids, high school is not just a waste of time but actively deleterious.

Weaknesses of Simon's Rock
-Networking may not be as great as at a famous old boy college; there's no old boy network. Of course, going to Harvard won't necessarily get you accepted by their old boy network either.
-Isolated faculty: it may be harder to get in on some fellowships and internships coming from Simon's Rock, just because the faculty tends to hang on forever and doesn't have the connections they might at Stanford or MIT.
-Graduating with a BA as a teenager isn't a great position for entry to the job market.
-Lab facilities aren't great.

Simon's Rock works well for some students, and is probably inappropriate for most students. You might know best which your child is.

(SR BA '87)

Crimson Wife said...

I know someone who did her first two years at Simon's Rock and then transferred to Stanford. She had been absolutely MISERABLE in her high school. She lived in one of those small towns where the high school was treated as not much more than an excuse to host sports teams and social activities like prom. She had been on the verge of dropping out when she found out about Simon's Rock.

She told me the biggest downside was that unlike boarding school, there was very little supervision of the students. Lots of drinking, drugs, hooking up, etc. like at a typical college, except that all the students were 15-17 years old.

VickyS said...

My niece entered Simon's Rock directly after 10th grade. She was very bright, and getting nothing from high school, so it was a great opportunity to leave high school behind. However, when it came time to graduate (at age 20 or so? 19?) she did not have the maturity to finish her senior project. Plus, as others have noted, you're just too young to get a decent job or even get into grad school. I actually don't know anyone who has had a good outcome graduating college at 19 or 20.

Anyway, what's the rush? Is it only about getting the degree? What about the process? I loved college, and wanted to sample all sorts of classes that were available to me. If money is an issue, rather than shorten your college time, why not choose a less expensive college and enjoy all four years? More time for interesting subjects, more time for undergraduate research, more time for making friends, more time to decide on job vs. grad school or professional school...what's not to like?

Anonymous said...

It is true that Bard College at Simon's Rock is a college, and not a boarding school. They do not have "dorm parents," and although alcohol and cohabitation in the dorms are against the rules, there is no panopticon and rule-breaking is widespread. If your child is unable to survive the availability of booze, drugs, and sex in a parent-less environment, don't send her to college. It is also true that a senior project (usually a thesis) is required, and if you will not be mature enough to complete one at 19, it's not a good place for you to be. A fair proportion of students wash out from immaturity.

It is true that Simon's Rock won't save you money. If you want to save money, don't send your kid to a small private liberal arts college. They are almost all very expensive. Simon's Rock is now up to 45K a year just for the tuition. Simon's Rock also won't shorten your college time - you will not be able to graduate in three years - it will just make college start sooner.

Many students transfer to other colleges after two years and do Junior and Senior years there for a BA from that institution. Any college or university you can think of has probably accepted a student from Simon's Rock with full credit for Fresh/Soph. Many graduates go directly on to graduate school, where acceptance is rarely a problem. Many students are also adrift at 19 with a BA and no idea what to do with it.

It seems like SteveH, in the mode of the ambitious parent, is worried that one of his son's classmates may be "getting ahead" of him. Here's the bad news: he is ahead. He will likely get his BA sooner than your son; he may even end up at the same institution two years ahead of your son. He might even end up with job in the same field two years ahead; he might spend his entire life as your son's nemesis, pursuing him from the front, always one step ahead. Confound you, Competitor!

Here's the good news: this imagined competition is absolutely silly. You don't know what's going to happen. For all you know, the Competitor will drop out of college and work on a canning boat in Alaska. Or your son will switch his major to sociology or dance, or move to Estonia to get away from you.

Maybe it would be helpful to think of the last two years in high school (seen as a waste by some) as a time to work on independent projects in relative leisure, or a time to get a better idea of what one really wants to do in and after college. College is so expensive that it hardly makes sense to rush into it. Trying to do it sooner makes even less sense for most kids. Brilliant as your son obviously is, maybe he can make some useful contacts or do some professional work.

SteveH said...

The person is a "she".

"It seems like SteveH, in the mode of the ambitious parent, is worried that one of his son's classmates may be "getting ahead" of him."

You can "seem" all you want, but that doesn't make it correct. Apparently, you haven't read all of my comments, or if you have, you need help with your critical reading skills. I could "seem" that you are extraordinarily defensive about SR. That can't be from my comments, but it didn't stop you from taking a pot shot at me. Please do not conflate comments from different bloggers.

I started the post because I never heard about the idea of early college and wanted to find out what others thought. KTM talks a lot about general topics in education. The consideration of SR for my son lasted about two minutes after going to their web site, but I wanted to talk about how early college fits into the larger world of education.

If I wanted to get my son away from a high school and put him on a (supposedly) fast track, he would be at Phillips Andover right now. Rather, he is at an ordinary public high school, and is quite happy and successful. My goal was not to elicit advice for my son as if anyone has a good idea about what would be best for him. Philosophical advice might be appreciated, but please go beyond simple concepts about how he might change his mind or about exploring stuff and making "useful contacts". You have no idea. However, he could end up in Estonia because he has met Indrek Laul, the president of Estonia Pianos and he was the first pianist outside of the factory to play their new Model 210 last August. Please note that Estonia is not some backwater or isolated country.

As for getting done with college early, I don't see anyone advocating for that just to get into the workplace early. Besides, if these students are so bright, they will probably get advanced degrees. This thread has, however, talked about AP classes and whether one could use them to graduate early - more for saving money rather than getting a job sooner. If one is destined for graduate school, the goal might be to minimize overall time and cost. One doesn't need to pay colleges as if they are the only places for exploration and making useful contacts.

Anonymous said...

Steve, it's obvious from your previous comments here that you're fairly obsessed with your son's schooling and future. I'm surprised you're not aware of how you this stands out to people who read your blog. I hope the helicoptering ends once your kid goes off to college, for his sake.

I'm sure your son has a bright future. He's probably as intelligent as you are, and will undoubtedly become a good engineer, or a good piano tuner in Estonia, or both.

As for how early college fits into the wide world of education, it's such a small niche it's practically irrelevant. I believe you are correct to think it is unimportant to you and to your son. It clearly doesn't fit into the path you have planned for him.

To someone else it might be helpful to know a few things about it. It's why I bothered to post on this blog, given your typically tedious defensive posturing. For another person who is not your son, and for parents who are not you, early college might be a good idea.

The main function of early college is to provide a place for the kids who just can't wait to get on with college, and who might just find something else to do if they have to wait. If this sounds like your child, you might look into it.

If one is destined for graduate school, and concerned about cost, the most cost-effective approach may be to have someone else pay for it. For some students, in some fields, going to college early may be a good way to distinguish oneself and become outstanding earlier rather than later. I believe my early college attendance may have helped me maintain a full ride for my doctorate. YMMV.

SteveH said...

My blog?

You seriously need to read my comments carefully and not mix them up with others. You can't use ad hominem attacks as a cover.

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Anonymous said...

VickyS said "I actually don't know anyone who has had a good outcome graduating college at 19 or 20."

I got my BS at 19 and turned out pretty well. Of course, I then spent 8 years in grad school, getting an MS in math and a PhD in computer science.

Don Jergens said...

Anonymous, Are you any relation to J.D. Fisher?

palisadesk said...

Well, whether I've turned out well is a rather subjective judgment, but I graduated with a BA in classics at 19 and then had time to pursue graduate work in several fields. It worked out for me; high school was rather boring although I went to what was then (and maybe still) one of the most demanding academic prep schools in the eastern U.S. However I found college a fabulous experience and am certainly glad I chose to go early.

ChemProf said...

I have had a couple of students do well graduating at 19 or 20. One just finished med school after serving in the army, following ROTC, the other is in grad school at Yale. However, both did do post-graduate work, which can help.

laurabeth1976 said...

Personally, I've seen a lot of value in early college, particularly for gifted students. My son wasn't getting the challenge he needed in his high school and was bored with the quality of the courses. We ended up looking into early college and he went to Simon's Rock. Most students do transfer after two years, but a good number do stay for four years and graduate with their B.A. Actually, the former students seem very successful and many of them do choose to go on to get another degree, such as their masters, Phd, etc. PArticularly if you are interested in a field where a higher degree is an asset, starting sooner could be a leg up. However, the biggest advantage is simply that it provides gifted students a challenge and allows them to begin their college education early. That is more valuable than remaining in a high school where you are bored and everything is too easy.

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