SAN ANTONIO — Somerset Independent School District will join a growing number of districts throughout Texas developing an early-college high school.
Somerset’s board this week authorized its staff to apply to the Texas Education Agency to allow it to open such a program next year. In Bexar County so far, seven districts have or hope to have one.
Early college high schools, started in Texas about a decade ago, provide an avenue for students to earn up to 60 college credit hours along with their high school diploma.
Some education experts tout such schools as a way to keep economically disadvantaged or at-risk students in the running for college, because it reduces the time and financial demands that can deter students from pursuing a higher education.
So far, the state has 59 such schools sanctioned by the Texas Education Agency, but the number that offer college credit is likely larger, as some school districts bypass the agency and arrange their own customized partnerships with local higher education institutions.
Locally, Harlandale already is marching forward on plans to open an early-college program next year. Lackland and South San ISD officials also earlier this year expressed interest in it. A summer shakeup in South San leadership has made it unclear if the district will pursue it.
Two districts — San Antonio and Judson ISDs — already have state-sanctioned early college high school campuses.
Others, such as East Central ISD and Southwest ISD, have dual-enrollment classes that provide college credit, officials there said. All four districts have partnerships with Alamo Colleges.
Somerset ISD plans to partner with Alamo Colleges’ Palo Alto College and with two other nearby rural districts — Poteet and Lytle ISDs — in creating its school, to provide an enrollment base that would make the project sustainable, Somerset superintendent Saul Hinojosa said.
Harlandale is building a new school but Somerset plans to repurpose its former junior high school to house the classes, which could grow to accommodate up to 500 students after four years, Hinojosa said. They will have to apply and qualify through a competitive process. Since it’s a three-district model, students likely will be bused among the three cities and Palo Alto for classes.
“This will save families in our communities thousands of dollars and keep them on track to further their higher education,” Hinojosa said.
TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said the state doesn’t track students coming out of the early college high school program to see if they get a bachelor’s degree, but a state-sanctioned study in October 2011 generally found that students in Texas’ program did better on test scores, had higher attendance, and stayed in high school until graduation compared to their peers.