In what may be a developing trend in education, California State University is offering to open the Dominguez Hills campus in Carson to full-time high school students majoring in math and the sciences.
In California, the concept began to take shape two years ago with the founding of Los Angeles County's High School of the Arts at California State University, Los Angeles, believed to be one of the first secondary schools in the nation to be permanently located on a four-year college campus.
Education officials backing the Dominguez Hills proposal say it could lead to a blurring of the traditional division between secondary and university education, and provide a powerful recruiting tool for the college. High school students given an early exposure to a college environment, the officials say, are more highly motivated to continue their education--particularly at the institution that supplied a home for them in their final pre-college years.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Community College District, which has been plagued by falling enrollment in recent years, is pushing ahead with rival plans to join what one official called "a revolution in the making." Spokesman Norm Schneider said Chancellor Leslie Koltai is putting the finishing touches on a "middle college" concept, based on a New York City program aimed primarily at reducing the dropout rate in schools there. He said the concept will be a "major thrust" of Koltai's state-of-the-district address this fall.
Schneider said New York started with a high school at La Guardia Community College about a decade ago, then gradually expanded the program to other two-year colleges and recently installed a high school at Brooklyn College, a four-year institution.
"They've had some very impressive results," he said. "About 85% of the high school students graduate and 90% of that group continue into college, with more than 50% electing to stay with the host college. That's exciting."
He said competition may develop between community and four-year colleges, "but there are enough high school students to go around." Two-year colleges have an edge in several respects, he said, including shorter commuting distances "since we are spotted all over the map" and an easier transition between high school and college.
In the short term, the factor of under-enrollment at community colleges becomes an advantage in terms of more classroom space available for high school programs, Schneider said.
Under the new Cal State system proposal, which officials said is still in the discussion stage, the Dominguez Hills center for high school students would be set up in existing buildings on the campus. Classroom space is available during the morning and early afternoon, a spokesman said, because many of the 7,400 students attend late-afternoon and evening classes.
Several hundred gifted high school students would receive advanced courses in science and math, in addition to their regular academic classes, and they would be able to pick up early college credits by taking university courses. Subjects at the secondary level would be taught primarily by high school teachers, and the students would receive additional instruction from university professors and have access to college facilities, such as the library and science labs.
"I think we're looking at a pioneering effort to close the gap between high schools and colleges," said Sidney Thompson, deputy superintendent for school operations in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is expected to operate the high school.
"A K-12 structure just doesn't make sense in this day and age," he said. "We should be talking about K-14 and K-16 programs that do away with artificial barriers and encourage youngsters to keep right on going, up to the highest level they can achieve."
Many young people with college potential, particularly among minorities and women, "don't have the foggiest notion of what it's like to attend a university," Thompson said. "By giving them that experience in their high school years, I think a lot more youngsters will be saying, 'Hey, I don't have to stop with a high school diploma.' "
He said the Dominguez Hills center would be racially integrated, but the district would focus its efforts on recruiting minority and female students "because there are far too few of them in math and science now."
In recent years, Thompson said, the Los Angeles district has been sending thousands of students to Cal State campuses, community colleges and vocational schools for a few hours on several school days, primarily to relieve overcrowding in the 590,000-student system. Those visits provide some exposure to a college environment, but the High School for the Arts and the Dominguez Hills proposal "are much bigger steps in the direction we need to go," he said.