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maryMarcyEarly college has made headlines recently after several states announced measures to expand avenues that would allow high school students to test out of their last two years of high school and enter a college program instead. The news will undoubtedly advance an already rapidly growing early college landscape. Responding to recent news, Provost Mary Marcy wrote “Early College: Founding and Future,” which appeared on

Early College: Founding and Future by Mary B. Marcy

Early college – leaving high school before the traditional age in order to enroll in higher education – is likely called that because ‘offering the option of college at the right time for intellectually curious and capable students’ lacks pith. But the point is valid: for many students the age of fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen is not early, it is simply time to attend college.

This is not necessarily a critique of high school, although the challenges of our high schools are well documented. It is a recognition that, despite the standardization of educational progress, young people mature at different social and intellectual rates. For those curious and capable, the right time for an engaged college experience may well arrive prior to the age of eighteen.

We should provide that opportunity. This is why the new initiative put forth by the National Center for Economics and Education has promise. The NCEE is leading an effort in eight states to assess the progress of high school sophomores. Those who pass the assessment will have the chance to attend early college.

The proposal is not based on a theoretical argument. For decades, some students attended college when they were intellectually ready; the University of Chicago offered an early college experience in1939. And since 1966, Bard College at Simon’s Rock has been dedicated solely to providing a rigorous liberal arts college education to bright, motivated students. For the vast majority of early entrants, this has been a good decision. A recent national survey, published in the New York Times, found that 88% of Bard College at Simon’s Rock alumni would choose this education again.

The NCEE effort is a significant step forward in expanding the success of this model. In launching this initiative, it will be important to shatter, rather than duplicate, the problems of our school system. Students must be challenged, and offered the opportunity for social and personal advancement. They should not be prematurely tracked into a profession, but offered a genuine liberal education – the chance for an education that liberates. If we succeed in doing this, we will not only provide individual opportunity for students, we will prove, yet again, that education is a significant path to supporting both our democracy and our economy.