Students who earn college credit while pursuing their diploma at early college high schools are more likely to graduate and go on to higher education than their peers who attend traditional schools, according to a new study from the nonprofit American Institutes for Research.
Women, minorities, and low-income students from these schools were more likely to earn a college degree than those at other high schools, the study also found.
The Early College High School Initiative, started in 2002 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, lets underserved students take free courses toward earning an associate’s degree, or collect up to two years of credits toward a bachelor’s degree. Today, there are more than 240 early college high schools nationwide, serving over 75,000 students in 28 states.
The schools, which are public and use lotteries for admission, partner with local colleges and universities. Many are located on college campuses. Professors teach classes at the schools, where students can begin taking college-level courses in ninth grade.
“Earning an associate’s degree at an early college high school can get students on a pathway to work or college earlier, and allow them to save money,” says Andrea Berger, principal research analyst at the American Institutes for Research and author of “Early College, Early Success: Early College High School Initiative Impact Study.”
About 2,500 students from 10 early colleges in five states were included in the study, which covered the years 2005 to 2011. It compared early college students to those who applied but were rejected and attended 272 other schools.
A total of 86 percent of early college students graduated from high school and 80 percent enrolled in college. Of the students not accepted, only 81 percent finished high school and 71 percent started college.
Notably, by the time they were one year out of high school, 22 percent of early college students earned a postsecondary degree, a feat that only 2 percent of students outside the program achieved. Before early colleges, similar dual-enrollment programs primarily served gifted high school students who were already on track to go to college. Early colleges were created for students who had not considered higher education an option, Berger says.
“Most students go through high school not knowing for sure if they can handle college,” Berger says. “The difference here is students know they can, and get to try those first tentative steps with extra support from their high school to bolster them before they are out on their own. They leave with a sense of their capabilities.”