Da Vinci Charter High School in Hawthorne is angling to open a new campus in southeast Culver City with an approach so novel it might be without precedent: a high school, community college and university program for a discounted tuition, according to The Daily Breeze.
Under the proposal, students would attend public high school and college simultaneously on the campus of Antioch University. They’d finish high school in five years instead of four, but on graduation day would receive not one, but two pieces of paper: a high school diploma and an associate of arts degree.
Students then would have the option to continue on at Antioch for two more years to obtain their bachelor’s degrees at a reduced rate, although they could go elsewhere, too.
The idea behind the proposal is to address a festering problem in education that to date has gone largely unnoticed: While more and more poor and minority students are getting into college, their rate of completion remains dismal.
About 55 percent of all college students never graduate, but for low-income students — the primary target of Da Vinci’s latest effort — the proportion is closer to 90 percent, according to the Early College High School Initiative.
“It’s almost like taking the ball down the field from the one-yard line,” said Matthew Wunder, executive director of Da Vinci Schools. “You get all the way to the (opposing team’s) five-yard line, and you never score.”
The new school would try to tackle this, in part by keeping college costs low.
The high school diploma and AA degree would be free, and the total cost of the bachelor’s degree would range from $9,000 to $19,000, depending on the income level of the student. (That’s compared with the four-year cost of about $75,240 for typical Antioch students, $26,000 for students attending California State University and $50,000 for those at the University of California.)
“I’m glad there’s a national conversation right now about what I think was a dirty little secret,” Wunder said. “Everybody knows college is expensive, but why does it need to be?”
Like all California charter schools, Da Vinci’s as-yet unnamed school would be available to all students living in Los Angeles County, as well as any neighboring county. However, limited space could present the need for a lottery to get in.
Thus far, the plan is just that — opening day isn’t slated to occur until the fall of 2013. But the concept has already caught the eye of several deep-pocketed school-reform organizations.
The proposal has attracted a $150,000 grant from a consortium of donors that includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Da Vinci also has received a matching-grant pledge for $300,000, meaning that in order to secure the grant, Da Vinci first must raise the same amount by the end of August. It is about a sixth of the way there. If it succeeds, Da Vinci will have $750,000 to play with, and opening day will be all the more likely to happen.
The notion of having a high school, community college and university all rolled into one has the hallmarks of the experimental approach often taken by the Da Vinci franchise, which today consists of twin 3-year-old high schools, called “Science” and “Design” (for their respective specialties), as well as a newer K-8 program called “Innovation Academy,” which includes a home-school component. All three schools are located in Hawthorne, west of the San Diego (405) Freeway.
The schools’ newness means data on their performance remains in short supply. But early indications are encouraging. Da Vinci Science just graduated its first senior class. About 84 percent of that pilot class of 40 was accepted into four-year colleges.
There have been hiccups. Last year, Da Vinci Science and Design were disqualified from getting an API score due to a technicality: By law, sophomores must be tested in life science, but at Da Vinci the vast majority of those students were tested in chemistry instead.
If the idea for the Culver City campus comes to fruition, that new school — which would have a strong liberal arts bent — would open with around 150 students, mostly freshmen. The school would add a grade every year until maxing out at about 750.
The vision for the new school takes advantage of a little-known clause in California public education: Students can continue to have their high school education funded by the state so long as they don’t turn 19 by mid-April, provided they have not graduated, Wunder said.
On the one hand, this means taxpayers are paying for five years of high school instead of four. But Tex Boggs, president of Antioch University Los Angeles, argues that the setup ultimately saves the taxpayers money, because public subsidies are what keep community college fees so low.
“As a taxpayer, I’m happy with it,” he said. “I’m paying for five years as opposed to six or even seven.”
Officials hasten to add that Antioch University is not to be confused with Antioch College, which shut down for three years due to financial troubles but reopened in 2011. The university split off from the Ohio-based college in 2008, and the two are no longer affiliated.
Though private, Antioch University is a nonprofit entity. It caters, by and large, to a population of older, nontraditional students, most of whom take night classes.
To achieve the discounted rate, Antioch will try to capitalize on an experimental program that is gaining traction nationwide: free online courses, offered by a widening pool of colleges, many from Ivy League institutions such as Harvard and MIT.
Anyone with a computer and Internet service can take these classes, known as mass open online courses, or MOOCS. But users aren’t eligible to receive college credit for them unless they are part of a class that is headed by a mentor or instructor. Antioch plans to establish a cluster of MOOCS classes.
Another aspect of the proposal involves Marymount College in Rancho Palos Verdes, which would put Da Vinci’s teachers through a program allowing them to become adjunct professors.
“We don’t have all the answers yet,” Wunder said, “but that’s why they give you a planning grant to really make that happen. … We’re going to need to have this fairly well flushed out by November.”
* To learn more about Educase, the organization that administers the consortium of Da Vinci donors, link to www.educase.edu.
* The larger initiative from which the Da Vinci proposal is seeking assistance is called Next Generation Learning Challenges. More information can be found at nextgenlearning.org/.
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