College opportunity is calling the name of every high school student in Brownsville, Texas. And why not? The Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) has become a leader in the state by offering the designated Early College High School (ECHS) program at all seven BISD high schools. A plan the Texas Education Agency (TEA) endorses as “College for Everyone” is now an everyday occurrence for any Brownsville student.
The Early College High School program introduces college level learning to secondary students, with the opportunity to earn not only a high school diploma, but up to 60 college credit hours, at no cost to the high school students or their families. For the past 3 years, BISD students have earned over 30,000 college credit hours while attending high school. Qualifying school districts must enter into an agreement with an institution of higher learning in order to gain TEA approval. Brownsville ISD has partnered with Texas Southmost College (TSC), Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK), and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Other college and university partnerships are being developed.
There are currently 164 designated ECHS campuses across Texas. Brownsville ISD has seven of them: the original Brownsville Early College High School, Homer Hanna Early College High School, James Pace Early College High School, Gladys Porter Early College High School, Lopez Early College High School, Simon Rivera Early College High School, and Veterans Memorial Early College High School.
BISD is one of the few districts in Texas to offer a “wall-to-wall” ECHS model which allows all students to earn college credit.
“Brownsville ISD continues to put students first by ensuring that they obtain a rigorous education which will prepare them for career and post-secondary success,” said Dr. Esperanza Zendejas, Superintendent. “We believe that when we enroll a child, we enroll the entire family. The Early College High School initiative supports our families by substantially lowering higher education costs. It also supports the larger community by ensuring that Brownsville is prepared for the jobs of the future.”
Here’s how the ECHS model works in Brownsville. District high schools currently offer over 20 dual enrollment courses including art, music, Spanish, psychology, and speech. Students are enrolled in the ECHS courses which are offered in several different ways. The majority of the courses are taught by qualified BISD teachers with Master’s degrees or adjunct college instructors. However, in order to broaden student access for dual credit, students now have on-line options available at UTRGV and summer concurrent enrollment opportunities at both TSC and UTRGV.
Students also receive a range of support services such as tutorials and preparation for the Texas Success Initiative which is used to determine placement in college courses. District ECHS students receive the same support services enjoyed by on-campus college students.
Each Brownsville ECHS has a transitional counselor who aligns the college program of study with the BISD curriculum and House Bill 5 mandates. An ECHS director at each campus ensures that students successfully meet the academic rigor of college courses and that the ECHS campuses meet the standards of the college designation.
Saving time and money in the pursuit of a college education is important. A BISD high school student taking full advantage of the Early College High School program could save $24,000 or more in future college costs. At the same time, students gain the discipline and learning skills they need to succeed in college. Brownsville ISD is taking the lead by offering this educational opportunity at all seven high schools.