Diana Flores didn’t know where to begin.
College was some big pie in the sky idea for her when she attended classes at South Hills High School. Then the Tarrant To & Through Partnership came along and helped her find her path to earn college credit while still in high school and get her in college.
“I felt like my friends already knew everything, and I was behind them. But T3 has really helped me get ahead of them than I thought I would be,” said Flores, now a TCC student.
Flores was one of three students who recently told the Tarrant County College board of trustees about how T3 helped set them up for success and showed them how to navigate college — including how to begin earning credit before graduating high school. They are part of the creation of a college-going culture that TCC, Fort Worth ISD and T3 are instilling in students.
Fort Worth ISD has several programs for putting students in a college-like environment while still in high school. Their TCC partnership programs include:
- Special campuses called early college high schools that blend college-level work with high school courses.
- Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools that are focused on a specific industry and have a company as a partner.
- Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics academies that are math and science-focused P-TECH campuses.
Beyond that, students also may enroll in dual credit courses, Advanced Placement and On Ramps classes. On Ramps is a University of Texas at Austin program that allows students to earn credit in a research-level college class.
Offering as many choices as possible is key for David Saenz, Fort Worth ISD’s chief of innovation. Each of the paths for college-level courses is an opportunity to make college a reality for students. That is why Fort Worth ISD and TCC offer the programs at no cost to students.
Money is often a barrier for students of color or students who come from low income families. Nearly nine out of 10 students in Fort Worth ISD come from a family with a low income. Not only that, programs like early college high school and P-TECH do not have any requirements for students to enroll. All they do is submit their application.
“These are students who simply want this opportunity,” Saenz said.
Students enrolled in college-level classes tend to have better outcomes than those who don’t.
The number of students enrolled in a dual credit course through TCC increased 36% between fall 2010 and fall 2021, according to figures from the college. During that 11-year period, 90% of students have successfully completed these classes, said Bill Coppola, president of TCC Southeast Campus.
If students take at least six dual credit hours, they are more likely to finish high school and earn a postsecondary degree, Coppola said.
In 2021, TCC operated 25 early college high schools or P-TECHs throughout Tarrant County. All seniors at those schools earned a high school diploma and 85% of them received an associate degree from TCC. The associate degree attainment rate is more than double the statewide rate of 40%.
In a traditional high school, the demographics of early college high school students would likely mean 50% of them would earn their high school diploma, Coppola said.
Fort Worth ISD has seen a pattern among its early college high school students: They outperform other students on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness end-of-course exams, Saenz said.
As more students go through early college high school, Coppola has seen a new trend emerge. Alumni of the program have encouraged their younger siblings to enroll.
This generational change will be important as TCC builds up a skilled workforce, Coppola said. Nearly seven out of 10 jobs in Tarrant County need at least an associate degree.
Getting high school students invested in building a college-going culture has been successful, but Coppola described that as just a starting point.
“We’re going back to the seventh grade in middle school to get them moving,” he said.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.