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Ogden’s new O-Tech high school wants to narrow the gap between students and college

Ogden-Weber Technical College Campus
courtesy of Ogden-Weber Technical College.
The campus of Ogden-Weber Technical College in Odgen, Utah.

Students in the Ogden School District will soon have another option to finish out their high school years — at a building located on the Ogden-Weber Technical College campus.

The district is building a new high school at the technical college so that students who are enrolled at O-Tech will still have access to their high school coursework without having to leave campus.

While these kinds of “early college high schools” are still relatively rare in Utah and around the country, they’re a promising development in recent years, said Jason Taylor, an educational leadership and policy professor at the University of Utah.

“Those are the types of innovative approaches that we see around the country whereby secondary and post-secondary education are collaborating and disrupting existing systems,” he said. “Seamless might not be the right characterization, but that's a more continuous secondary to post-secondary education experience.”

“It's really exciting because it opens up the students' schedule,” said Heather Gerrard, OSD’s director of personalized pathways. “The idea is they will be earning their graduation credits, earning that tech college program certification for free, all at the same time, on the college campus.”

Students in the district can already attend the college tuition-free, said president Jim Taggart. But travel time between the high school and college campuses has been a barrier for many students.

By opening up a building on-site where students can still complete their high school requirements, more individuals will be able to stay enrolled in both programs, he said. They’ll also complete their work through a ‘competency-based’ approach that stresses completing assignments rather than time spent in a classroom.

Board members with the Utah System of Higher Education gave the new school their official blessing Thursday, noting it would help advance many of the goals they have for the state, including increasing college access, graduation rates and job-specific training opportunities.

Taylor’s been looking into the data around dual enrollment programs — in which students take college-level courses in high school — and will soon be releasing a white paper with a team of researchers.

In general, he said “blurring the lines” between high school and higher education increases access to and demand for college-level education, improves graduation rates and helps reduce the overall cost of attending college — which is often much cheaper when students attend while still in high school.

Still, there are disparities across the country in terms of which students have access to or complete dual enrollment programs. Taylor said more research is needed to understand why those gaps exist and help establish best practices for policymakers.

Gerrard said a major goal of the new school is targeting students who’ve lost interest in their high school classes. Many students feel like sitting in a math class is a waste of time because they won’t ever use those skills — or rarely use them — in their later lives or careers. But when material is specifically geared toward a career path, she said that’s proven a much better motivator.

“We've seen a lot of success in things like the auto program and working with places like Northrop Grumman and developing the skills for those students to be able to get hired right out of high school and earn something like $40 an hour,” she said. “That creates a lot of relevancy for our students, which is the reason why they come to school.”

The new high school is expected to open in the fall of 2024. Taggart noted district officials anticipate about 300 students to enroll, but a lottery system may be required as he’s already seeing lots of interest from parents.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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