What’s “Early College”?

Early in the history of American education, it wasn’t unusual for there to be close links between secondary and postsecondary institutions of learning. The oldest secondary school in what’s now the U.S., after all, was a Latin grammar school in Boston meant to prepare young boys to enter Harvard. But over the course of the 20th century, the high school evolved largely separately from the university. College may have been grades 13-16 to some educators, but it had little directly to do with K-12 education.

As Sam Mulberry and I explain in this week’s episode of College for Christians, that line has been blurring for years, to the point that people like us are now being asked to teach 16- and 17-year old students enrolled in various versions of what’s generally called “early college.”

Of course, Bethel took its name from a secondary school that operated from 1905 to 1936, with Bethel Academy giving way to Bethel College during the Great Depression – Bethel Digital Library

So we talked through the differences between the rather well-established practice of getting college credit for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and other exams — which come at the end of courses taught in high schools by high school teachers — and the growing practice of high school seniors, juniors, or even sophomores taking college courses: on college campuses, in high school (with college instructors), and, increasingly, online.

Sam and I are involved in all of this as professors at Bethel, which has made much of its desire to expand “dual enrollment” — e.g., by increasing the number of students taking advantage of Minnesota’s nearly-40-year-old “postsecondary enrollment option.” (We spent much of 2021 building a version of Bethel’s foundational Christianity and Western Culture course that was taught to seniors at a local Christian high school.) So we tried to give an inside look at how colleges approach “early college” and tried to help students and their parents think through why and how they should — and shouldn’t — avail themselves of such options.

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