Chafee vision for Middle College fails to make the grade
During his election campaign, Lincoln Chafee pledged that within his first hundred days he would establish a Middle College program to give students in high school and technical schools better access to the college experience. It was patterned after a proposal in Connecticut that was supposed to merge the state's technical schools with its community colleges, an idea that never went anywhere.
When we last looked at this promise in April of 2011, there had been some meetings but no definitive action. The ultimate goal was to take the existing programs that allowed high school students to attend college-level courses and earning college credits and extend it beyond top students.
More than three and a half years later, there is no formal Middle College program, at least by that name.
"It was nothing that ever came to fruition. As far as we know, nothing ever got started," said Community College of Rhode Island spokesman Richard Coren.
When we asked the Chafee administration about that, spokeswoman Faye Zuckerman said the effort shifted to "middle college-like initiatives" and "'middle college' opportunities, which were called 'multiple pathways.'"
"The Governor over the years has visited all of the technical schools in the state, and he has met with the school's leaders. He worked with them to increase and improve Multiple Pathways," Zuckerman said.
When we asked the Rhode Island Department of Education about Middle College, spokesman Elliot Krieger said there's "dual enrollment," where high school students can take college courses for credit, a system that pre-dates Chafee.
However, for the first time, the department is in the process of drafting regulations to standardize the system for letting high school students take college level courses. The regulations could be released for public comment at the Dec. 1 meeting of the Rhode Island Board of Education.
"There hasn't been a consistent statewide policy regarding what courses are worth what credits, enrollment practices, or whether students have to pay tuition or whether it's waived," said spokesman Elliot Krieger. "The idea is to make sure everyone has equal access and that the programs are uniform across the state in providing access to credits. That would include an agreement among the public post-secondary schools to accept those credits."
"The reason the board wanted to take this on is equal and broad access," he said. "It should not be restricted to the top students."
Has Chafee been involved in any of this?
"He hasn't come to a board meeting and raised his views on it, but it's his Board of Education, he appoints the members" and the chairwoman meets with him regularly and has briefed him on it, Krieger said. "It's something going on in his administration."
The effort is admirable, but it's not the novel Middle College concept that Chafee pledged to put in place during his first 100 days. Instead, what we've seen is an evolution and expansion of the less-ambitious pre-existing system where some high school students take college courses for credit.
The department of education is trying to standardize and expand it for high schools, but even that won't be completed until he has left office.
On balance, we rate this as a Promise Broken.
Email, Faye Zuckerman, spokeswoman, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Nov. 7, 2014
Voicemail, Richard Coren, spokesman, Community College of Rhode Island, Nov. 6, 2014
Interviews and emails, Elliot Krieger, spokesman, Rhode Island Department of Education, Nov. 6, 14 and 17, 2014
Work ongoing on “middle college” promise
When a state like Rhode Island is trying to attract high-paying jobs, one incentive it can offer a company is a skilled work force. That was the idea behind a campaign pledge by Gov. Lincoln Chafee to develop an early introduction to college, known as middle college.
"This program will give many more students, especially those enrolled in career-oriented trade schools, the opportunity to attain a quality education and full employment," he said on his campaign website.
The idea is to allow high school students to get a taste of college life, attending college-level courses and earning college credits, even as they are getting credit for their high school graduation. This would extend the program beyond just top students, who have long been able to take such courses through advanced placement programs.
Chafee spokesman Michael Trainor said the governor was inspired by an unsuccessful 2009 proposal by then-Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell to link the state's vocational-technical schools to Connecticut's community college. The goal was to let those students earn college credits in key job skills as early as 10th grade.
Rell cited a 2009 Brookings Institution study that predicted that 45 percent of the jobs in the next decade would require more than a high school education, but not necessarily a four-year degree.
Trainor said there have been four meetings on the issue -- the latest on April 6. They included sessions with officials of the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island, along with George Caruolo, chairman of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.
During those sessions, education officials pointed out that there are existing programs designed to encourage high school students to give college a try.
"This review has made the governor aware of a number of programs that may fall under the umbrella of Middle College, specifically the multitude of summer programs at a number of the state's institutions of higher education," said Trainor. "The governor is evaluating a subsidy program to encourage more high school students to take advantage of these summer opportunities to pursue further education and improve their career prospects."
There's been no definitive action, so we'll rate this promise as "In the Works."
ChafeeForGovernor.com, "The First One Hundred Days Plan for Jobs," accessed April 11, 2011
CT.gov, "Governor Rell: Middle College Proposal Will Keep Connecticut a Work Force Leader," March 9, 2009, accessed April 11, 2011
Emails, Michael Trainor, Chafee spokesman, April 8, 2011
Email, Christian Vareika, deputy press secretary, Chafee office, April 13, 2011
Briefing folder, "Middle College," acquired April 11, 2011