Fifth-Year Senior: Why Making High School Longer Is a Brilliant Idea

Posted by Liz Dwyer

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After four years of high school, you were probably pretty ready to graduate. But what if you could have earned college credit if you stayed for a fifth year? Students in Maine might soon get the option to do just that. In order to ensure that the state is truly preparing the workforce of the future, governor Paul LePage followed up on a campaign promise this week and issued an executive order that creates a task force to study whether a five-year high school option can be implemented state-wide.

The five-year initiative would accelerate the traditional high school curriculum so that credits are finished more quickly, and bring introductory college courses—college English 101, for example—down to the high school level. Students who opt in to the five-year program would graduate with both a high school diploma and either an associate's degree or two years of credits that they can then transfer to the college of their choice. 

Moving the first few credits of college down to high school certainly makes sense from a cost standpoint. Instead of paying tuition to take those entry-level English, math and science courses at college, students could save major cash by getting those out of the way at their free public high school. After all, the potential to save money during the college years is why students want to pass the AP exams in the first place—AP credits get you out of those beginning classes.

Making those college credits free at the high school level could also go a long way toward ensuring access for populations currently underrepresented in higher education because they can't afford those college tuition bills. Indeed, one of the organizations Maine's task force plans to consult is the Early College High School Initiative. Since 2002, they've helped more than 230 schools in 28 states and the District of Columbia make the five-year switch. They specifically work with schools attended by students who may be "first-generation college goers, English language learners, students of color" or from low-income backgrounds—students that often need help getting on the college track.

Maine doesn't plan to make the program mandatory for all students, but I can't help but wonder, why not? Why do we make high school four years anyway? It's not so odd for us to think outside the box about what's taught in high school and how long it lasts. After all, because most decent-paying jobs require a college degree now anyway, we should be making it easier for every student to get one. 

photo via teachers.egfi-k12.org