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Palomar College, Escondido high school district talk ‘middle college’

The Palomar College Governing Board and Escondido Union High School District Board of Education discussed plans to create a “middle college” program at an Aug. 27 joint meeting.

Meant to offer alternative courses and career paths for Palomar Community College District students, the program’s phase one would link 100 ninth-grade Orange Glen High School in Escondido with Palomar College beginning in the fall 2020 semester. From there, 100 students per year would enroll in what’s been dubbed Orange Glen Middle College, for a total of about 400 enrollees by year four.

“Middle college,” explains EUHSD materials published after the meeting, aims “to make high school more relevant to students, and to make college more accessible and affordable.”

At the onset of the meeting, Palomar College president Joi Lin Blake called the partnership “a long time coming.” She added that Palomar College had worked with the Escondido district for two or three years to bring the concept to life.

In her presentation in front of the joint bodies, Blake further detailed that in the fall 2018 semester, Orange Glen represented 729 out of the 3,230 Escondido Union High School District students who attended Palomar College in fall 2018, or about 22.5% of that district’s enrollees. Both that percentage and number has remained similar since fall 2013, according to Blake’s presentation.

Blake said that she believes that the existing research and data on the “middle college” paradigm proves that it works.

“What it does for K-12 systems is it creates a college-going culture in high school,” said Blake. “Students start to see themselves early going to college. Some of those students that are the ‘maybe’ students, not quite sure if they fit, you know by taking college courses it gives them a sense that they can pursue higher education and there is a place for them.”

She said, too, that having such an opportunity in place pushes more students toward successful high school graduation. Further, she said that those students who start early may be close to, if not complete, with a college associate degree by the time they complete high school.

But ultimately, Blake said Palomar’s vision extends beyond merely a partnership with the Escondido Union High School District. She explained that the college has opened a line of communication with North County school districts in Bonsall to feed into the community college’s Fallbrook campus, Poway to feed into the Rancho Bernardo campus, as well as with San Marcos and Vista to feed into the flagship San Marcos campus.

Proponents of the program from both governing boards at the meeting expressed a desire not to create an enrichment for thriving high school students alone. In that vein, they have created an 80-20 program for applicants, consisting of allowing in 80% of students with a GPA between 1.89 to 3.49 and admitting 20% who have a GPA of 3.5 or above.

Palomar College Governing Board member John Halcón said he would like to see “diversity of not only applicants, but participants in the program.”

“The program, in other places has tended to evolve into a very specialized program for specialized kids,” said Halcón. “That’s what I wouldn’t want to see.”

According to a 2017 study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, which examined 200,000 high school-community college dual enrollment students by pulling data from the National Student Clearinghouse dating between 2010-2016, 88% of them “continued in college after high school, and most earned a certificate or degree or transferred from a two-year college to a four-year college within five years.” Within those same five years, 46% of them had earned a college degree.

Within San Diego County, middle college is not a new concept. The first program of the sort got off the ground in 2001 in El Cajon as a partnership between Grossmont High School and Grossmont College, now known as Grossmont Middle College High School.

For that program, applicants must answer a slate of questions and write an essay answering two essay prompts, which are considered alongside a teacher or counselor recommendation and a student transcript.

The first middle college in the United States got off the ground in 1974 in New York City, a partnership between the New York City Board of Education and LaGuardia Community College. Today, 50 such partnerships exist nationwide and 14 of them are in California, according to the Middle College National Consortium.

Blake said that the next step is for the two entities to sign an official memorandum of understanding in agreeable terms calling for the creation of a middle college partnership.