Feeling Prepared for College: Evaluating the HMTCA-Trinity College Partnership

To read the full evaluation report authored by Robert Cotto Jr., Director of Urban Educational Initiatives, click here.

In 2011, the Hartford Public Schools (HPS) and Trinity College partnered to create the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA). The partnership agreement called for the former Hartford Magnet Middle School (HMMS) to be renamed as HMTCA and expand from a grade 6-8 school into a grade 6-12 school. HMTCA is located on Hartford’s Learning Corridor, which is across the street from Trinity College’s campus in the city’s South End neighborhoods. HMTCA is a public interdistrict magnet school that is operated by the Hartford Public Schools (HPS) district. City and suburban families apply to HMTCA through the Regional School Choice Office (RSCO) lottery. As an interdistrict magnet school that intends to meet the goals of the Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation settlement, HMTCA enrolls roughly half of its students from Hartford and roughly half from surrounding towns. In terms of racial composition, the school serves students in the following groups: 46.8% Latina/o, 23.6% Black or African American, 19.7% White, 5.1% Two or More Races, and 4% Asian students. In addition, 59.2% of students were eligible for free or reduced priced meals in 2017-18.

In order to expand its reach to high school students, the HMTCA-Trinity College partnership envisioned an “Early College” experience that emphasized “preparing students to attend and to succeed in college.”

What’s an early college program?

Over the last several years, Early College programs expanded with the idea of getting students to experience college academics while still attending high school (Edmunds, 2012). The HMTCA-Trinity College partnership is a blend of different Early College program models, and includes the HMTCA Summer Writing and Science Academies on Trinity College’s campus, the enrollment of select HMTCA students in introductory-level Trinity College courses, and HMTCA students taking high school courses on Trinity College’s campus, as well as access to events and activities on campus.

Students in the HMTCA-Trinity Summer Science Academy. Photo by Robert Cotto, Jr.

This past year, program director Robert Cotto Jr. completed an evaluation study of the HMTCA-Trinity partnership with the goal of evaluating the experiences of participants in the program to understand the benefits and challenges in terms of preparation for college. This study included an online survey with over 100 participants, and two focus groups with HMTCA students and educators.

Some key themes from surveys and focus groups:
1. Improved ability of HMTCA students in navigating a college campus.

As it turns out, being on Trinity College’s campus, whether in a formal or informal way, helped HMTCA students to feel more prepared for college. Students said that they were able to get a  realistic view of a college campus, develop better time management skills due to the walk to Trinity’s campus, and understand what college professors are really like. In class and out of class experiences allowed students to practice navigating public spaces on a college campus such as classrooms, Peter B’s cafe and other food areas, and the library during free blocks of time.

HMTCA students on Trinity College’s campus. Photo by Robert Cotto, Jr.


One student called the walk from HMTCA to Trinity College, “a realistic view of what college life will be like next year.” One teacher noted, “My students have been able to attend presentations on Trinity College campus. They get to walk to Trinity for their course giving them increased independence and responsibility over their learning.”

Another student said, “My high school English class, which is held at Trinity, feels much more serious (in a good way) because of the college classroom setting. Also, I enjoy the exercise and the sense of freedom we get from walking to and from Trinity. It helps to clear the mind.”

Trinity College faculty also reported that HMTCA students participated frequently and invigorated discussions in Trinity College courses. HMTCA students enrolled in Trinity College courses were also more easily able to interact with college students. One professor even witnessed a Trinity College student mentoring an HMTCA student on their college application essay at Peter B’s cafe on campus.

Some challenges that students noted were around making a high school and a college schedule work together, especially with a long walk between campuses. According to one student, however, the tradeoff for missing some high school class time was taking a college course for credit and the potential of earning a credit now and saving money in the future.

2. Respondents who were current and former HMTCA students said they felt better prepared for college level work.
HMTCA students hear from a panel of Trinity College students about college life. Photo by Robert Cotto, Jr.

This was especially for those who had taken a Trinity College course. Several students noted learning about the differences between college and high school classes, and learning more about college-level essay writing in particular.

One Trinity professor wrote, “The student who took my lecture class was challenged and did a very good job in the class. She worked with the TA on her essays, which was a bonus for her.”

Trinity College Faculty also noted that HMTCA students were well-prepared academically for Trinity College courses and commented on their strong work ethic and frequent participation in class.

One Trinity professor wrote, “HMTCA students enrich my classes.” Different Trinity faculty used words and phrases like “well-prepared”, “motivated and responsible”, “eagerness”, “refreshing perspectives,” and “model students” to describe HMTCA students in their courses.

3. Participants also noted a variety of academic collaborations between HMTCA and Trinity College that are formal, informal, and emerging.

The collaborations they noted include programs that fall under the HMTCA-Trinity College partnership such as the HMTCA summer science and writing academies as well as programs that do not fall under the partnership, such as the Jones-Zimmermann Academic Mentoring Program for middle school students, and one-time or occasional programming on campus such as the 8th grade “Day at Trinity” and programming at the Austin Arts Center, Cinestudio, or Mather Hall.

HMTCA students in Advanced Placement Government and Mock Trial attended the Connecticut Supreme Court Justices “On Circuit” Program at Trinity College. The Court heard oral arguments in one criminal case and one civil case and offered a Q&A session afterwards facilitated by Trinity College faculty member Glenn Falk of the Public Policy & Law Department.

Emerging collaborations were also noted in responses, including the institution of the HMTCA Writing Center in collaboration with Trinity College Faculty and students and the recent collaboration between La Voz Latina, a Trinity College student organization led by Latino/a students, and a group of HMTCA students who are working to start a Latinx club in their school. Survey respondents suggested that the collaboration process may favor HMTCA teachers with prior relationships with Trinity College through the partnership and that HMTCA teachers without a prominent role in the partnership may not be aware of opportunities to collaborate.

4. Overall, participants showed a clear interest in improving interaction and stronger connections between HMTCA and Trinity College through both programming and facilities.

Some HMTCA faculty suggested that there be more opportunities, possibly on a weekly or monthly basis, for HMTCA staff and Trinity faculty to interact. They also expressed interest in greater access to learning resources, classrooms, library, and performances as well as athletic facilities like fields and clinics.

Some HMTCA students also noted feelings of a one-way partnership and not being entirely welcome on campus. One student said, “I feel that we are always going to Trinity and Trinity is not coming to us in a way.” Another student expressed interest in having Trinity involved in HMTCA’s learning and extracurricular environment. 


Recommendations for the program include 1) fostering stronger connections between HMTCA and Trinity through a planning and implementation committee focused on collaborations, logistical and capacity issues, and incorporating student voice, 2) expanding the partnership programming to include a broader range of students who are not formally participating in the Early College partnership, and 3) promoting educational equity in the partnership through programs on cultural competence, multicultural/multilingual education, and equity in education.

To read the full evaluation report authored by Robert Cotto Jr., Director of Urban Educational Initiatives, click here.