Academic journal article Adult Learning

Blurring the Lines between High School and College: Early Colleges and the Effect on Adult Learners

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Blurring the Lines between High School and College: Early Colleges and the Effect on Adult Learners

Article excerpt

The history of the community college reflects an almost continuous effort to increase access to higher education; women, members of non-dominant groups in society, older learners, learners with disabilities, and now younger students have often accessed higher education through the community college. For over 60 years, the community college has utilized inter-institutional collaboration to expand access and play a vital role in meeting the needs of both traditional and adult students (Bragg, 2006; Koos, 1946).

These partnerships have allowed the community colleges to serve students with great diversity in terms of age, professional background, academic ability, and educational goals. By leveraging their resources through collaboration, community colleges have expanded access to higher education and helped increase economic and educational opportunities. As a result of this history of increasing access and inter-institutional collaboration, the community college has become known as the access point to higher education for adult learners, particularly adult learners from nondominant groups within our society (Keene, 2008; Cohen & Brawer, 2008).

Adult learners have been a primary constituency for the community college in both degree-seeking curricula and in non-credit programming for occupational and recreation purposes. As the American population ages, there has been an increase in the number of older students at the community college (Krakauer, 2005).

A new form of collaboration is developing in several states, which allows greater access and brings a new group of students to the community college. This partnership is, however, threatening some of the dynamics between the community college and its primary constituency: adult students. Early Colleges are small schools designed so students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate's degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor's degree. For some students, it effectively blends two institutions into one, although it creates a variety of new challenges for community college leaders.

These schools have the potential to improve graduation rates and better prepare students for entry into high-skill careers by engaging students in a rigorous curriculum and compressing the number of years to a college degree (Wolk, 2005). Located primarily on community college campuses, Early Colleges allow high school students, beginning as early as the 9th grade, to concurrently earn a high school diploma and an associate's degree with little or no cost to the student.

The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the presence of high school students, some as young as 14 or 15, has an effect on the learning environment of adult students at the community college. The research examined the perceptions of community college chief academic officers in North Carolina regarding the effect Early College Programs have on adult students. Thirty-eight Early Colleges existed in North Carolina at the time of this study, representing about one-quarter of all Early Colleges in the United States. Several states were watching the aggressive implementation of Early Colleges in North Carolina as they considered similar programs.

Adult learners are an important and historically notable constituency for community colleges, and the education of adults is an important part of the community college mission. Therefore, community college leaders would want to be aware of any changes in the adult learning environment created by Early College students on their campus. As with any new program, there may be unintended consequences which result from Early College efforts. The current study investigated whether the presence of Early College students (aged 14-18) had any unplanned effects on the learning experiences of adult students at the community college.


The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of chief academic officers regarding the effect Early College programs have on adult community college students. …

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