Broadening Access to Higher Education: A Story From a Texas Charter School Pilot

Today, we wanted to share a story that is very close to us.  Stories like these remind us why Udacity began, why our team works hard every day, and encourages us that our mission to broaden access to education is, at least anecdotally, having some success.  It embodies why we exist and what we strive to do — reach and engage students in college level courses who would otherwise be left out, bored, disenfranchised, and not empowered to further their education.

Earlier this year, we received an email from the founder of Winfree Academy Charter Schools. The subject matter: Damsel in Distress.  In the email, Melody Chalkley introduced her school and her mission. Winfree Academy Charter Schools are located in Texas and serve “at risk” students.  In fact, 91% of their students are at-risk of dropping out of high school as defined by the Texas Education Code. Almost a third of their students are 18 and older, many are young/single parents, many were previously enrolled in an Alternative Education Program, and 17% are homeless… yet 81% of their seniors want to continue their education at the post-secondary level.

Melody wrote about the need to re-engage these students and prepare them on their road to college readiness with curriculum in which they could really learn at their own pace, learn by doing such that they are fully engaged, and could begin to be empowered again in their education.  We decided to do a pilot.

For the pilot, 22 students ended up enrolling in Udacity courses. All of them had indicators as being at-risk for dropping out of school by state and national standards and 78% were from economically disadvantaged households.  They had the choice to enroll in either Introduction to Statistics or Introduction to Physics.  We ultimately had 17 students enrolled in Physics and 5 enrolled in Statistics.  At 9 weeks into the pilot, 72% of students were trending above expectations set by their principal. In fact, 7 students had completed the physics course and 100% of the students in the statistics course were ahead of the principal’s expectations in their progress.

We were especially inspired to hear the stories about two of the girls:. J.C., a 17 year-old Hispanic/American Indian, and K.H., a 17 year-old Caucasian, both of whom had been “at-risk” since grade 7 and at their prior, traditional schools had not maintained enough of an average to keep them in school. Both of these girls were able to complete our online physics class at higher than 80%.

While there were also some constraints, added self-discipline, and some more features that came up for us to work on, as Melody shared the students feedback, we were encouraged by the students’ reviews:

“You get the one on one attention that you want. [The teacher] teaches you how to do the problems step by step and then lets you do it on your own. Another great thing about this is that if you do not understand it you can always keep repeating it until you figure out how to work it out.”

“I was more likely to retain the information because they learned it, then did it.”

“Teachers are online ready to explain and help you understand what you’re stuck on. …They explain almost everything in detail without a problem making easier for those of us who are tactile learners.”

We want to congratulate the students that completed the pilot program!  We take their feedback to heart as both encouragement and areas we will continue to build on.  And thank you to the Winfree teachers and administrators for all the work they do to help these at risk students meet their goals of going to college and taking college level courses.  Stay Udacious!



4 thoughts on “Broadening Access to Higher Education: A Story From a Texas Charter School Pilot

  1. Hi, It's me the Damsel in Distress! This is one of the most exciting journeys since actually starting the school, Winfree Academy. All of my education career has been a continuous search for finding opportunity for disenfranchised youth. Many of our kids were discarded by the system and now they are finishing Udacity Courses in lightening speed with a chance to make their dreams come true.

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