Early College at NLU: Accelerating Students Toward Future Success

It is no great secret that today’s high school and college graduates are preparing to enter a historically challenging job market. In an economy in which the competition for quality jobs has steadily been growing more intense, the arrival of the covid-19 virus in March of 2020 has only exacerbated the difficulties today’s students are likely to face. With covid-19 rewriting so many of the received rules about the organization and demand for work, students will inevitably look for a leg up wherever they can find it.

The Middle College Business Program aims to give students just such an advantage. About six years ago, National Louis University and Township High School District 214 entered into a partnership to develop a new, dual-credit, dual-enrollment curriculum for the district’s seniors that would allow them to complete courses for college credit while in high school – a proven strategy to increase future college enrollment and success rates of high school students. The initiative has grown so much that more than 600 NLU college courses were completed by D214 high schoolers in the 2019-20 academic year, focused on the business and education career pathways.

In August 2020, this work grew to new heights as the innovative new NLU/D214 Middle College Business Program launched. Through Middle College, across the district’s six high schools, students now have the opportunity to earn a whole year of college credit in their senior year by completing coursework in classes taught at NLU’s Wheeling campus. The program offers a mix of business administration courses, such as entrepreneurship and accounting, as well as general education courses such as psychology, and students have the opportunity to graduate high school with sophomore-level college status.  

“District administrators were interested in making sure students have an optimal chance to go to a 4-year college upon graduation, because that really helps their earning potential in the future,” said Pauline DeGrazia, the Director of Undergraduate Programming at NLU’s Wheeling campus. “So the program aims to blur the line between high school and college by getting high school seniors on campus, taking classes, and acclimating them to university culture so they’ll naturally feel like matriculating to a 4-year program at NLU after they graduate,” she said.

With NLU Undergraduate College classes being taught in the virtual environment in the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms, the Middle College program also pivoted to virtual instruction led by NLU faculty, with additional on-campus student engagement and support opportunities available to help students strengthen their college-going identity and academic success. Middle College students also receive all the support benefits that full-time NLU students receive, such as working with a Student Success Coach.

The Middle College Program potentially represents a new model for expanding educational access and spreading the positive benefits of a college education. While taking courses for college credit is common in high schools, the Middle College approach is unique, allowing high school seniors to experience an entire year of college campus life with their friends. The program is serving 19 students in its inaugural year and expects to grow in Fall 2021, and NLU seeks to develop similar partnerships with other schools in the Chicago area.

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