University of Rochester

From High School into College: An Alternative Model That Works

October 5, 2001

The first middle college-an alternative high school for students more likely to drop out than take the SAT-has spawned several dozen imitators in its quest to jump the precarious divide from high school to college.

In a new analysis of the history of that journey, Harold S. Wechsler, professor at the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester, writes about the original Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York, and the handling of its unique approach to education reform.

"The initial relationship between the high school and the community college can be difficult and complex, but almost all middle colleges survive and go on to educating students well," says Wechsler. About 30 examples of middle colleges, located at community colleges, operate in the United States today.

LaGuardia Community College, the site of the first middle college almost 30 years ago, offers an early expression of education reform that continues to create new templates for helping at-risk high school students.

Besides describing LaGuardia's middle college, Wechsler's book profiles other examples in Dallas; Los Angeles; Memphis; Peoria, Ill.; and Richmond, Calif., and the means used to achieve successful academic environments.

Surveys have found, in particular, that the middle college experience is applauded by students because of internship opportunities and the small, supportive learning environment. These and other strengths keep school attendance figures high and dropout rates low. By tracking students since LaGuardia's school opened in 1974, figures show that students go on to participate in part-time, college-level studies and earn a credential normally awarded by a two-year college. Their work leads directly to skilled or semiskilled employment.

Teachers College Press, a major publisher on education topics, has just released Wechsler's book, Access to Success in the Urban High School: The Middle College Movement ($39 cloth; 224 pages). Funds from the Ford Foundation supported Wechsler's work on the project.

Wechsler's current research involves a history of the development of minority access to higher education from 1920 to 1970, and how women, African American, Jewish, Hispanic and Asian college students fared at municipal and state institutions.

The author earned his doctorate in history from Columbia University, and has received awards, fellowships, and grants for research projects on campus prejudice, working conditions of college faculty, and the lives of Jewish college students. He taught at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University before joining the Warner School in 1991. He is the author of several books and monographs, including The Middle College Movement: A History; The Transfer Challenge: Removing Barriers, Maintaining Commitment; The New Look: The Ford Foundation and the Revolution in Business Education; Jewish Learning in American Universities: The First Century (with Paul Ritterband); and The Qualified Student: A History of Selective College Admission in America 1870-1970.