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School District Proves that College is Possible Despite Economic Hardships

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The Hidalgo Independent School District (ISD) in Hidalgo, Texas has raised the bar in terms of college readiness.

Hidalgo ISD, which serves an economically depressed community with one of the lowest number of college-educated adults along the Mexican border, can now serve as an example to school districts across the country.

Beating the Odds: Graduates Earn College Credits

The Hidalgo ISD student body is 99.5 percent Hispanic, 90 percent economically disadvantaged and 53 percent limited English proficient. Despite the odds, over 95 percent of the Class of 2010 graduated with college credits and two-thirds of graduates earned at least one full semester of credit toward a college degree.

Early college high schools are generally part of the Early High School Initiative, which was founded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. As of 2008 there were over 300 early college high schools in the United States.

The Hidalgo Early College High School was created in 2005 in partnership with University of Texas-Pan American, the University of Texas System, the Communities Foundation of Texas/Texas High School Project, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Early college high school programs give students the opportunity to receive a high school diploma and earn an associate’s degree or up to two years of college credit toward a bachelor’s degree over the course of four years. Students take a mixture of high school and college courses to make this possible.

The majority of early college high schools serve less than 400 students; Hidalgo Early College High School serves all of Hidalgo ISD’s high school students—over nine hundred. Hidalgo ISD appears to be the first comprehensive public school district in the United States to prepare and expect all students to earn college credits while in high school.

College Success for All

College Success for All, a report issued by Jobs for the Future (JFF) earlier this week, explains how Hidalgo ISD is preparing all of its students to earn college credit while still in high school.

The report describes how and why Hidalgo ISD adopted the early college concept as a district-wide strategy. “I can’t see taking half of the kids and leaving the other half out. Why not do it for all the kids?” were the thoughts of Dr. Daniel P. King, the superintendent of Hidalgo ISD at the time.

Hidalgo’s Formula for Success

Hidalgo adopted the early college concept as a district-wide strategy by creating a college and career focus in everyday activities. The school system motivates and prepares students for success in higher education from elementary school onward. Their partnerships with South Texas College and Texas State Technical College, along with more rigorous course sequencing and high-quality career pathways, appear to be a formula for success.

A press release issued on October 26, 2010 quotes Edward Blaha, Hidalgo ISD’s current superintendent of schools: “The starting line is right behind our heels. There’s miles to go, but we know we’ve stepped onto the right track, because this is good for kids.”

Funding is Necessary to Continue

Even with miles to go, Hidalgo’s results are inspiring.

The original grant funding for Hidalgo ISD’s early college program is coming to an end, and the district is applying for grants and doing everything it can to sustain and continue building on its early college approach.

John Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Texas High School Project, comments that “Hidalgo ISD shows that obstacles impeding high school and postsecondary success can be overcome. The success of early college high schools is being replicated in districts throughout Texas. We need to create more Hidalgos in our country, more districts where the lessons of early college are spread to all students.”


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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