McFarland High School Early College Program: A Pathway to Success

Monday July 8, 2024

At a time when the cost of higher education continues to rise, McFarland High School Early College is offering all its students a significant head start through its robust dual enrollment program. In partnership with Bakersfield College (BC) and the Kern Community College District, McFarland High has developed an initiative that allows high school students to graduate not only with their high school diploma but also with an Associate of Arts degree or college credits, setting them up for future academic and career success.

McFarland High School crest created by students in the welding class.

Superintendent Aaron Resendez says the school maintains the highest graduation rate in Kern and Tulare counties and more than 20 percent of McFarland’s graduating seniors also earn a college degree. This dual enrollment is structured so that every high school student is enrolled in BC courses from the moment they step onto the high school campus.

“Instead of sending kids to the community college campus, we brought the community college campus here,” Resendez said. “All students will have an opportunity to take collegiate courses.”

McFarland’s dual enrollment program is diverse, offering pathways in both academic and vocational fields. The most popular program with students is the Associate of Arts degree in Spanish, though students also have opportunities in STEM and vocational courses such as welding.

“We’ve invested heavily in facilities, including a state-of-the-art welding shop that meets Bakersfield College standards,” Resendez explained. “If their goal is to get into the vocational career space as soon as possible, they’ve got a head start for that.”

McFarland High School’s welding shop.

Multiple college pathways ensure that students are exposed to a wide range of academic or vocational pursuits. This allows them to choose fields that interest them, which increases their investment in their studies.

Principal Dario Diaz highlighted the program’s equitable nature. Since all students are automatically enrolled, nobody gets special treatment or is left behind.

“It’s not just the kids who are honors or AP students. It’s not just the kids who have already showcased their academic skill set,” he said. “You want to come to McFarland High School, you’re coming to college.”

School counselor Jill Jimenez explained that dual enrollment courses are embedded into students’ regular school day, allowing them to take two to three high school courses alongside dual enrollment classes each day. This allows students to graduate with anywhere between six and 60 college credits without taking after-hours or summer classes.

“We’re removing the barriers” she said. “Our students are leaving here with confidence, assurance, support, and knowledge to go out and be successful, whether they go to a job or university.”

Jose Vasquez recently graduated from McFarland High with his AA degree in Spanish. He will attend Stanford University in the fall. He is very grateful for his dual enrollment classes, saying they prepared him for collegiate courses and gave him the confidence he needed to face such a prestigious university.

“It was something that gave me a clear path to where I wanted to go, and it just gave me that confidence,” he said. “They definitely encourage us to have our own plan.”

David Cisneros, a dual enrollment business instructor, says all incoming freshmen are encouraged to choose and stick with a pathway they enjoy. Sometimes they don’t realize they are earning college credits. He described a student who was able to list her business class credits on her resume when applying for an after-school job. She was not only hired, but quickly promoted to a management position.

This dual enrollment model has inspired many students to pursue college who might not have considered it otherwise. School leadership used the idiom “a rising tide lifts all boats” to describe students’ collective success. Cisneros explained that a student will work harder to stay in a college pathway so they can remain in the same classes with their friends, raising the bar for all students. 

McFarland High School’s welding shop (left) and print shop (right).

This program extends beyond individual student success. Resendez says promoting higher education has a major lasting impact on the community of McFarland as well. He explained that the school board and community members have supported the dual enrollment program because they see the value in investing in education. The district has found that students who go away to finish their education, are now coming back and participating in the local community and economy.

“In a small town like McFarland, you have a very strong fabric of folks that were born here, their parents were born here, they are raising their families here. They want to come back here and contribute to the development of the city,” he said. “That is what’s going to build a community like McFarland.”

The school says they never would have seen this level of success if not for the partnership with Bakersfield College.  

“The partnership with our junior college is tremendous. I think it’s vital,” Cisneros explained. “Most schools that don’t have a good relationship with their junior colleges, it’s really hard to succeed. But we owe it to them. We’re so fortunate.”

Diaz agrees that the benefits of partnering with BC are astronomical for McFarland students, from easing the financial burden of college to promoting student safety.

“When a partnership allows for a community college to come to you, not only are you saving on the fees for the books and tuition, you’re saving on gas and food, and all of the safety issues that come with kids driving 30 minutes on the freeway,” he noted.  

The school’s efforts to offer robust programs and support are driven by a commitment to high standards and the belief that education is the key to transforming lives and communities.

“When the community is seeing this kind of action, this cohort of leadership, they really believe that our kids are worth it,” Diaz said. “The kids and the parents trust us because they see the action, they see that we’re catapulting them somewhere else.”

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.