Supporting Middle-Early College Students in College Classes

Adapted from National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST), Teachers College, Columbia University forthcoming publication entitled Ten Key Decisions in Creating Early Colleges: Design Option,bBased on research

by  Barnett, E., Bucceri, K., Hindo, C., and Kim, J.


All around the country, new middle and early colleges are opening their doors. Many of them are brand new schools; others involve existing schools that are adopting all or portions of the early college model. To help them to make decisions about how to structure their schools, NCREST drew on the existing research literature. Each of the following sections summarizes available research on a key question pertaining to student success in college courses.

What are the typical “starter” college courses for Early College students?

The type of starter course students take depends on the academic plan of the Early College.  It is common for students to start with “College 101” or a similar class that teaches skills needed for college.  Other common options are computer or arts classes.[i] Table 1 shows the enrollments of the 1,729 9th graders in 20 Early Colleges associated with the Middle College National Consortium in 2009-10.[ii] This provides a good idea of the “starter” college courses used in these schools.
















Should early college students take college courses singly or in groups?

 Across the country, Early College students most commonly start out taking their college courses in groups with other Early College students, and then become integrated into a regular college classes later on. Much depends on students’ maturity levels as well as on the policies of the college that influence what courses are open to Early College students and who pays for the courses. The following chart shows the distribution of Early College students in college courses in 2007-08.[iii]


What types of support are common in Early Colleges?

Common academic supports include extra help from teachers, tutoring, and studying with peers. Graduating seniors who participated in an MCNC end-of-year survey indicated that they had received the following kinds of academic support at least once a week during the 2009-10 academic year.[iv]









Some of these were rated by students as more helpful than others as shown in Figure 3 (note that students who did not participate are not included in the percentages).




To assist students undertaking college courses, many Early Colleges offer seminar, designed to help students “unpack” college-level coursework, navigate college systems, and receive academic, personal and social support. In one study, students reported that seminar provided step by step support in “doing” college. The support that they received was not limited to academic issues, though. Students explained that seminar was a place to obtain personal support or to solve other types of problems, including those that might occur within their families.[v]

Another study looked at the most common features of seminar in MCNC Early Colleges.[vi] These included:

Targeted students– Seminar was specifically designed to support college course-taking students. In all but one school, which required all students (college course-taking and non-college course-taking) to participate in a seminar designed around the AVID curriculum, this was the case.

Frequency and duration– In the majority of schools, seminar occurred 1- 4 times per week. Many schools scheduled seminar on alternating days with college course(s) meeting times. In these cases, scheduling depends on how often the college course met and for how long. However, since not all students take college courses, nor are all students enrolled in the same college courses, some schools must schedule seminar wherever students have schedule openings.

Credit and assessment Just over half of schools offered seminars for high school credit, ranging from 0.5 – 3.0 credits.

Curriculum and materials Aside from one school’s use of AVID, few utilized a specific curriculum. In most schools, seminar used teacher- and/or counselor-developed lessons addressing particular topics (i.e. “college knowledge” such as using a syllabus, time management, when to ask for help, reading a college textbook). Other seminars were directly tied to specific college courses and reinforced what was being taught in the course. Still other seminars incorporate supplemental materials such as test preparation books and college readiness or “College 101” publications.

[i] Nodine, T. (2009). Innovations in college readiness: How early colleges are preparing students underrepresented in higher education for college success. Washington, D.C.: Jobs for the Future.


[ii] NCREST (2011b). Middle College National Consortium ECHSI Integrated School Survey Data 2009-2010. New York, NY: Teachers College.


[iii] American Institutes for Research & SRI International (2008).2003–2007 Early College High School Initiative evaluation: Emerging patterns and relationships. An Evaluation for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Washington, D.C.: AIR.


[iv]  NCREST (2010). 2009-10 Aggregate MCNC Senior Student Survey Data. New York, NY: Teachers College.


[v] Spence, K., & Barnett, E. (2006). Supporting high school students in the transition to college. New York, NY: Teachers College

[vi] Hindo, C., Barnett, E., & Kim, J. (2010). Seminar: A support program for high school students undertaking college courses. New York: NCREST, Teachers College