Palomar College’s innovative partnerships with three local school districts have students earning college credits before they even graduate high school.

NORTH SAN DIEGO COUNTY — From Escondido to Rancho Bernardo to Fallbrook, three unique and innovative partnerships are bringing college classes to high school students within the Palomar Community College District (PCCD).

Known as “middle college” or “early college,” the programs are blazing a new path from high school to 4-year institutions by reaching students long before they would ordinarily begin taking college classes.

“We are so proud of our middle and early college partnerships, and of what these unique high schools are doing for students in our district—many of whom will choose to pursue higher education as a result,” said Palomar College Superintendent/President Dr. Star Rivera-Lacey.

“Middle colleges are secondary schools authorized to grant diplomas in their own name—and they’re located on college campuses across the nation,” explained Palomar’s Dual Enrollment Supervisor, Jennifer Finn. “Typically, they’re small—often fewer than 100 students—but they offer a rigorous academic program with a supportive educational environment. And they often serve historically under-represented student populations.”

The programs operate under College and Career Access Pathway (CCAP) agreements between Palomar and a local high school or unified school district, which document how the partnership will provide college and career pathways to students.

“There is no cost to the students, whatsoever,” Finn emphasized, adding that middle college is designed for students who might have otherwise missed out on higher education. “The primary goal is increasing the opportunity for underserved students to earn post-secondary credentials.”

“These students have exposure to, and support for, college while they’re in high school,” she added. “They are often more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to enroll in college after high school, and more likely to earn a degree—based on research findings.”

Middle College at Orange Glen

In Escondido, the largest and oldest of Palomar’s middle college partnerships currently has 253 students enrolled at Orange Glen High School.

Assistant Principal Amy Booth, who oversees the Middle College at Orange Glen, said that the program launched online in August 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, her students have been taking at least one Palomar course every semester in place of one of their high school classes.

Being located at Orange Glen in North Escondido, Booth said, “The students get the college credit and college experience as part of their school day, but they also have access to all of the things the comprehensive high school offers—clubs, sports, dances and all of the support services.”

She characterized the Middle College as “a school within a school,” and said the goal is for every student in the program to graduate high school with 30 or more transferable college credits.

“A lot of our students are thinking several steps ahead, thinking of their future, thinking about saving money when they go to college,” said Booth. “They’re really just ahead of the game, in terms of their preparation level, and in terms of college units completed. They know they’re getting a competitive advantage, and a higher level of preparation for whatever comes after high school.”

Finn said the Orange Glen program is a good example of how middle colleges can put “a lot more resources in the hands of the students.” The students there have guided support, additional instructional resources, access to college counselors, and all of the help they need to achieve college and career readiness. They take college courses twice a week at Palomar’s Escondido Education Center, a mile away from the high school campus.

Booth said there are some challenges to overcome: “Being a 9th grader and taking a college class is not easy, and some students have needed more support than their peers.”

Overall, though, she said she sees the program as a tremendous benefit to her students.

“I love that we can create this opportunity in a community where we need more college success,” said Booth. “The benefit of college is clear, and students can have success in college while they’re in high school—that sets them up for success after college, as well.”

Poway to Palomar Middle College

In Rancho Bernardo, the team from Palomar College spent four years working with the Poway Unified School District to open Poway to Palomar Middle College (PPMC). The grand opening, and the first day of school, was held on August 15, 2022, as dozens of high schoolers filed into a classroom at Palomar’s Rancho Bernardo Education Center.

Poway to Palomar Middle College is unique in that it is the first high school located entirely on one of Palomar’s campuses. Students will attend class at Palomar in Rancho Bernardo; they will have access to the library there; and they will have additional support from staff on site.

They will also graduate high school with up to a full year’s head start on their college coursework.

The Principal of PPMC, Patty Hurtt, said that each of her approximately 40 students had a reason for choosing to attend the new high school, which is uniquely situated in its own classroom at the center, allowing students to easily attend Palomar classes in the building.

“Until now, they may not have had confidence in their education, but now they will know that they can succeed,” said Hurtt. “To see this much support for these students, from Poway Unified and Palomar College, students means the world.”

Early College Taking Flight in Bonsall

In the northern part of the PCCD, Bonsall High School (BHS) launched an Early College program in partnership with Palomar’s Fallbrook Education Center this fall.

Some 45 students in the program are taking traditional high school classes at Bonsall High, while being transported to Palomar’s center off Interstate 15 and Highway 76 during the school day for a variety of college courses.

Dr. Jason Fowler, Principal of Bonsall High School, said the program “is designed to provide college opportunities for students from low socioeconomic families, first generation college goers, and other groups traditionally underrepresented in college.”

“Bonsall High School is very proud to partner with the Palomar College Fallbrook Education Center to provide the BHS Early College High School Program in order to better serve the students of our community with a highly individualized, rigorous, and relevant educational program,” said Dr. Fowler.

He continued, “Through this program our students can challenge themselves by taking college courses offered at the Fallbrook Education Center during the school day. This will allow our students to take courses that interest them and lead them toward their educational goals.”