In fall 2010, Harper College and its feeder high school districts formed an unprecedented partnership to shrink student success gaps and better prepare students for college and careers.
More than halfway through the four-year pilot program, leaders believe they're onto something.
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"We think we have a model worth emulating," Harper President Ken Ender said.
The Northwest Educational Council for Student Success, a consortium of Harper, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Barrington Unit District 220, agreed to first tackle math, seen as an obstacle preventing many developmental students from moving forward with postsecondary education.
Among the most encouraging data leaders shared with the Daily Herald was that 53.7 percent of Harper students placed into a credit-bearing math class in 2012, up from 42.1 percent in 2010. And just 13 percent of Harper students had to enroll in the Palatine community college's lowest-level math course, down from 21 percent two years ago.
"The levels students are beginning at in college are going up," Harper Chief of Staff Sheila Quirk-Bailey said. "This kind of jump in three (school years), from a higher ed standpoint, is just huge."
That was accomplished in part through the decision to offer Harper's assessment test to all high school students. Once juniors saw they'd be placed into a remedial math class, 1,500 students -- who otherwise wouldn't have taken math at all as a senior -- enrolled in Harper's Algebra 2 remedial course last year while still in high school.
"We have one more year in our environment to get them on track," District 220 Superintendent Tom Leonard said.
The consortium also expanded the number of dual-credit opportunities, which allow students to receive credit in high school, at Harper and at a four-year institution upon transferring. They range from classes in core subjects and foreign languages to career courses such as fire science and criminal justice. The number of dual-credit students rose 184 percent to 2,382 this year from 839 in 2010.
Launched with the help of Harper's $250,000 commitment, the consortium set out to decrease the number of students who start college in remedial courses, align curriculum and testing, create "stackable" career and academic pathways, and leverage resources for innovative projects.
Leaders say the partnership is crucial as Harper's enrollment continues to grow. In 2012, 35 percent of feeder district seniors went on to Harper, up from 32 percent in 2009.
The consortium also developed a website, edcareerpartnership.com, in which students can select a career and see the recommended courses and activities.
Looking ahead, leaders will focus on getting students out of remedial English and implementing more opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
They'll also work to close achievement gaps among certain minority groups, particularly Latinos, due to the significant demographic changes in all three school districts.
One initiative would target eighth- and ninth-graders from portions of Carpentersville served by District 220. And since the need to have a summer job often prevents some students from getting the additional academic help they need, another idea is to set up a summer work program for students who would spend half the day at a campus job and the other half in class.