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More high school students starting the year as… community college students

Pasadena high school teacher Ana Chavez had to apply to become a community college instructor in order to teach a dual enrollment class at her high school.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC
Pasadena high school teacher Ana Chavez had to apply to become a community college instructor in order to teach a dual enrollment class at her high school.

Pasadena Unified is one of the first Southern California school districts that have taken advantage of a new law that allows high school students to take community college classes on a high school campus during the school day.

“When students earn college credit when in high school, over 90 percent of them [not only] go to college, but complete it,” said Pasadena Unified Assistant Superintendent Marisa Sarian. “When students experience earning college credit while they’re in high school, they see that it is an achievable goal.”

Two years ago, Pasadena Unified enrolled 89 students in community college classes that students attended after the end of the school day. This year, Sarian projects that up to 400 students may take the classes by the end of the school year.

That increase is the result of a significant new effort from state officials to clear hurdles that have traditionally blocked complex institutions – school districts and community colleges – from collaborating to help students enroll in and complete higher education credentials.

At Marshall High School, one of four district high schools offering the community college classes, students can study college-level music theory, linear math equations, and medieval Spanish literature.

The first two days were enough to convince students that Spanish 005, Introduction to Spanish Literature is more than a regular high school class.

“I think it’s going to be pretty tough,” said senior Esmeralda Flores. “In other classes you just learn how to write, read, and, like, do simple stuff. Here it’s more thinking – you have to think about everything."

The 19 students in this class all had to sign up for the class through Pasadena City College. The college waives tuition, but the students visit the nearby college campus and get a taste of life after high school.

High school teachers don’t automatically qualify to teach these classes and must be hired by Pasadena City College.

“I went through the same process of any professor," said Ana Chavez, who is teaching the Spanish class at Marshall. "You have to have a masters [degree] in Spanish. It’s a pretty lengthy process, so I’m honored that I was selected.”

Schools and community colleges must file their agreements under the new law with the California Department of Education and the California Community College chancellor’s office. The chancellor’s office said six community college districts representing 17 campuses have informed the office they’re partnering with area schools.

That’s still a small portion of California’s 113 community colleges.

“The districts need time to develop the plans with K-12 partner districts and then have them read and approved at two successive board meetings at the local level," said Paul Feist, the spokesman for the California Community College chancellor’s office in an email. "Our staff is expecting more agreements to be filed in the next couple of weeks."

The author of the dual enrollment law said he’s been getting a lot of calls from interested schools and predicts more agreements will be signed for the fall of next year.

“Probably for most of these school districts you’ll see them in place for 2017 but a lot of conversation going on and agreements being discussed and negotiated,” said Assemblyman Chris Holden.

Holden said he’s authoring additional legislation to make sure undocumented high school students aren’t labeled as out of state students when calculating tuition, even though it’s waived.

Los Angeles Unified’s Board of Education is set to approve a dual enrollment agreement with the Los Angeles Community College District in the coming months. Officials with the school districts in Torrance and the city of Orange are also in discussions with area colleges to offer dual enrollment classes.