With tuition costs rising, Tomball ISD is working to remove roadblocks between students and higher education opportunities.

During the school board’s October and November board workshop meetings, Chief Academic Officer Martha Salazar-Zamora presented a proposal for the district’s Early College High School program, where students would receive a two-year associate degree while still in high school.

“This setting makes higher education more accessible and helps students acclimate to a higher education environment while still in high school,” Salazar-Zamora said. “We want to reduce any barriers that
may exist.”

While in the program, TISD students will earn 60 college credit hours over four years while working toward a high school diploma. The 60 hours equates to an associate of arts degree from Lone Star College-Tomball.

Temporarily named Tomball Star Academy for Tomball ISD and the Lone Star College System, the program proposal will be sent to the Texas Education Agency for approval in December, Salazar-Zamora said during the board’s Oct. 10 meeting. If approved, the program will be housed at Tomball High School.

LSC-Tomball President Lee Ann Nutt said because the credit hours will be earned through LSCS’ dual credit program, TISD students would be able to earn the degree free of charge.

“The reason we’re able to do that is we receive state reimbursement for the hours generated by the dual credit,” she said.  “So it’s a reimbursement that covers part of our expense, combined with our tax [revenue, that] allows us to provide that at no charge to the students.”

Salazar-Zamora said the program will be limited to 125 students per grade level, and students will only be able to enter in ninth grade after
completing an application and interview process. Should the program be approved, the district plans to present the program to eighth-grade students and parents, she said.

“It’s going to be very rigorous up front,” she said. “Tomball Star Academy will be for a student if they want to make academics their focus. We want to be sure that this is the student’s choice and that they’re taking it seriously.”

While the Tomball ECHS program will be a first for the district, LSCS has already established early college high schools with Aldine, Humble and Splendora ISDs.

“It’s just a great connection and a great collaboration, and I’m grateful to partner with Tomball ISD for the benefit of our community.” Nutt said. “I do believe strongly that together we’re better, and [with] the relationship that the college already has with the school district, this initiative is only going to further impact our families that we all serve.”