We’re developing a unique academy to enable high school students to earn a Bard College AA degree, tuition-free, alongside their high school diplomas, providing young people with a deeper immersion in college than has ever been possible in Louisiana.

As a Black woman working in education, Nicole Young’s goal is to improve the quality of life for students of color by improving the quality of educational opportunities available to them. Nicole’s role as Executive Director for Bard Early College in New Orleans (BECNO) is a direct extension of her personal theory of action.

Founded on the belief that the opportunities for critical inquiry offered by the best colleges in the country should be available to younger students who have the ambition to learn, BECNO offers 11th- and 12th-graders in New Orleans a tuition-free, immersive liberal arts curriculum. BECNO students spend the second half of every school day as undergraduates of Bard College in small, seminar-style courses led by college professors from around the city.

BECNO students -- 90% of whom are students of color, 79% of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 69% of whom are first-generation college students -- have access to the liberal arts experience, which has traditionally been relatively inaccessible to people of color and low-income students. To note, students are not taking college preparatory courses at BECNO; instead, when they walk onto campus in the afternoons, they are taking real, college-level courses with the same expectations and workload. As a result, they can earn up to 24 Bard College credits during their last two years of high school.

As Nicole describes it, “every day, these intellectually curious students from around the city converge on our campus to think, discuss, and engage. Not only is it important to me that these diverse and exceptional students have access to the traditional liberal arts cannon through our classes, but it is crucial that their experiences are informing how those texts are taught and that their participation in the liberal arts college tradition is changing the narrative around who belongs in this type of college environment.”

As Executive Director for BECNO, Nicole has led the organization to realize the following results:

  • Students in the Class of 2016 earned an average of 14 Bard College credits at no cost to them or their families;

  • 96% were accepted at four-year colleges and universities, and on average they were awarded $24,280 annually in financial aid;

  • Five BECNO graduates of the Class of 2016 received full-tuition scholarships to Bard College in Annandale, NY.

  • BECNO students are excelling at all levels and they report walking into their next four-year college feeling more prepared and confident in their writing abilities, resulting in higher levels of persistence to graduation.