Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX-15) and Chaka Fattah (D-PA.-02) filed the Fast Track to College Act that will increase high school graduation rates and improve access to college through the expansion of the dual enrollment programs and Early College High Schools These programs allow young people to earn one to two years of college credit, including an Associate's degree, while also earning their high school diploma.
"In my district early college high schools have been a smashing success," U.S. Rep. Hinojosa said. "I have witnessed our leaders in education increase high school graduation rates, send greater numbers of students to college, and prepare our students for good jobs and careers. I believe this bill, that I and my friend Congressman Chaka Fattah have co-sponsored, will further the efforts across our nation."
Over the past 40 years, the percentage of jobs requiring postsecondary education has doubled, from 28 percent to 59 percent. Yet an estimated 1.3 million students across all fifty states and the District of Columbia dropped out from the Class of 2010. If half of these students had graduated from high school, this single class of new graduates would likely earn as much as $7.6 billion more in an average year compared to their likely earnings without a high school diploma, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.
"I am excited to have the opportunity to work with my friend and colleague, Congressman Hinojosa, in advancing this important legislation. We have both seen, in Deep South Texas and in Philadelphia, that setting high expectations for all students drives positive change in the lives and outcomes of students, families and communities. The opportunity to take and succeed in college level work will make post secondary education more an inevitability than an enigma. This is critical for our economy and our young people," Fattah said.
Existing dual enrollment and Early College High School programs have shown incredible promise as a tool for increasing attendance, graduation, and college enrollment rates, particularly among low-income high school students. These programs motivate students by offering a challenging curriculum and the tangible rewards of achievement, including free college credit and exposure to career opportunities. Also, schools are encouraged to work with local industry and community leaders to ensure students are prepared to compete in the 21st century job market.
Congressman Hinojosa added, "Our country cannot maintain its competitiveness in today's global economy if we do not reverse this trend and help America's students graduate, pursue a path to higher education, and achieve the American Dream."
The Fast Track to College Act of 2011 authorizes the Secretary of Education to award matching six-year grants to local educational agencies (LEAs) that partner with institutions of higher education (IHEs) to establish or support dual enrollment programs, such as early college high schools, that allow secondary school students to earn credit simultaneously toward a secondary school diploma and a postsecondary degree or certificate.
The bill gives grant priority to applicants: (1) that propose to establish or support a dual enrollment program for a student body at least 40% of which is impoverished; and (2) from states that provide assistance to dual enrollment programs, such as assistance defraying the costs of higher education.
The bill authorizes the Secretary of Education to award matching five-year grants to states to: (1) plan and implement statewide strategies to make dual enrollment programs more accessible to students who are underrepresented in postsecondary education; (2) provide technical assistance to dual enrollment programs; and (3) engage in outreach, assessment, and teacher training activities designed to strengthen such programs.
The bill directs the Secretary of Education to: (1) contract for an independent evaluation of this Act's programs; and (2) provide technical assistance to LEAs and their partners, and disseminate information concerning best practices in dual enrollment programs.