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UT Permian Basin’s innovative early college high school gets infusion of funding

Texas’ first entirely virtual early college high school – a partnership between The University of Texas of the Permian Basin and Presidio Independent School District – has been awarded a $215,000 grant from The Meadows Foundation.

Early college high school programs give students the opportunity to earn up to 60 hours of college credit while earning a high school diploma at the same time. College courses are free to students.

Presidio High School’s William Soza Early College High School is not the state’s first early college high school, but it is the first 100 percent online program, UT Permian Basin President W. David Watts said.

The Texas Education Agency requires early college high schools to be located on or near an institution of higher education, but Presidio High School is in a remote area along the west Texas border, roughly 270 miles from UT Permian Basin, Watts said.

“It’s impossible to bus students to a UTPB campus or community college,” Watts said. “And it’s not possible for faculty to commute every day.”

That’s why leaders from both Presidio ISD and UT Permian Basin pursued the creation of the first online early high school program in fall 2012. Students have their own classroom at Presidio High School, and receive support and supervision from school staff.

About 45 freshmen enrolled last fall, and 100 percent of them passed their college courses, Watts said.

“We’re delighted with the relationship with Presidio ISD,” he said. “We hope to turn this into a model that would serve all of rural Texas. This is an enormous opportunity for young people in Texas.”

The leadership of Presidio ISD Superintendent Dennis McEntire and School Board President Carlos Nieto as well as Educate Texas Executive Director John Fitzpatrick has been critical to the success of the program, Watts said.

The grant money from The Meadows Foundation, a private philanthropic institution based in Dallas, will be used for start-up planning and development expenses and to defray travel costs for Presidio students and teachers who will attend a summer “bridge” program on the UT Permian Basin campus, Watts said.

 “We are very grateful and appreciative to The Meadows Foundation for their financial support, and it will have a direct impact on student success,” Watts said.

 Linda Perryman Evans, president and CEO of The Meadows Foundation, said she was impressed by the unique partnership between UT Permian Basin and Presidio ISD.

 “A K-12 school district and an institution of higher education that are a four-hour drive away from each other joined together to think outside the box for the good of students,” she said. “We think it’s an important effort worth supporting.”

 Gene Powell, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, said reducing the cost of a college education and increasing access, particularly for underserved students, is one of the top missions of the UT System.

 “I applaud UT Permian Basin’s willingness to embrace innovative solutions to benefit students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to earn college credit simply because of where they live,” Powell said. “We hope this program serves as a model to expand higher education and improve the high school experience in rural Texas.”

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2012 enrollment of roughly 216,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $13.9 billion (FY 2013) including $3.1 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With more than 87,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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