Harry S. Truman High School Principal Sana Nasser started making college preparation a priority long before the city began sounding the alarm about poor college readiness rates. She has encouraged students at her large Bronx school to take college level courses at the nearby Mercy College campus, and invited alumni enrolled in college to meet with current students.
But when the city assessed her efforts in its first release of data measuring how schools are preparing students for college academics, Truman fell short of the city’s already dismally low averages in all three college readiness categories. Just ten percent of Truman’s students scored high enough on advanced standardized tests to be considered “college prepared,” according to the city’s rubric.
So Nasser is trying a different approach. She has joined with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and administrators from Mercy College to create a college readiness initiative that target all students and offer the strongest ones a chance to earn a two-year associates degree by the time they graduate from high school.
“I believe some of you can do high school in two years and take college courses,” she told an assembly of honors students in grades nine through twelve seated in the school’s spiffy, first-floor IMAX theater.
Diaz and Mercy College President Kimberly Cline introduced the initiative at an event this morning, where they lamented some of the challenges facing students who are preparing for college, particularly the financial burdens. The idea, they said, was born from the education summit Diaz held in the Bronx last fall, where educators from around the city discussed the need for more robust college preparations.
The initiative would cut down on college costs for students who earn credits — as many as two years’ worth — while still in high school. It would also partner Mercy and Truman to develop tutoring programs and seminars for parents.
The city has made a push in recent years to open more high schools that partner with city colleges—among them Pathways in Technology Early College High School and the Academy of Software Engineering—to offer college courses and extra certifications, in what is sometimes called a “9-14” pathway.
By 2025 Mercy plans to expand the program at Truman to at least 40 other Bronx schools that graduate less than 70 percent of students from high school in four years—but to do so would require an endowment of $100 million.
Seniors in the auditorium told me they were satisfied with the level of college preparations they received at Truman, though there is plenty of room to do more.
At Truman, where just 62.5 percent of students are graduating in four years, and just 6 percent are “college ready,” according to city data, it’s unlikely that very many students would be able to complete an associates degree in just two years. That option would be in reach Truman’s highest-achieving students, but Nasser said the efforts could also engage the vast majority of middle-of-the-pack students who are not currently taking advantage of the college-level courses on offer at the school and off-campus.
“My mission for this school has been for the past 10 years—and I don’t have any flowery words—that I want to graduate students in four years, without them needing remedial work in college,” she said.
“I think this sounds good. the school does need this,” said Aisha Diallo, a senior who is planning to attend La Guardia Community College this fall and major in biology. “I think it’s going to motivate more kids to come to school more and push more, knowing that they could finish part of college in two years.”
Diallo and other student have taken a college-level psychology class from a Mercy teacher who came to Truman, and students regularly meet with college advisers.
“We’ve met with counselors, we met with students from other colleges, and a lot of people from Mercy College,” Cordell Humbric said. “They went into our classrooms and taught us about FAFSA, how to apply [for financial aid].”
Nasser said the initiative would also take a burden off of parents who may be unfamiliar with the college application process or unable to fully fund a student’s education.
“Going to college is not going to be a mystery—we’re going to show you how to have financial aid, we’re going to take you through the steps with your child,” she said. “I want [parents] to know, ‘my kids are going to get to experience what it’s like to be a college student while they’re still with me.'”