Early College Equals Early Success

Published jun. 28, 2013

A major study out of AIR this week shows that students who attend early college high school are significantly more likely than peers to enroll in college and earn a degree. (For an easy-to-read 2-page summary, click here.)

The multiyear study tracked the outcomes of students at 10 schools in the Early College High School Initiative, which Jobs for the Future has managed since its launch in 2002. Originally funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, early colleges are rigorous, supportive schools designed to serve students traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Through partnerships with colleges, these schools enable students to earn up to two years of college credit while in high school, tuition-free.

Here at JFF, we’re excited about a few takeaways from AIR’s report:

1. Early college students are more likely to enroll in college (both two- and four-year) and to earn a college degree.

The researchers found that 21 percent of early college students have earned a degree one year out of high school, compared to 1 percent of their peers. Even after two years, comparison students had not caught up to early college students in degree attainment. Plus, 77 percent of early college students immediately enroll in college versus 67 percent of peers.

2. Early college benefits all types of students—and is particularly effective at helping women, students of color, and lower-income students earn college degrees.

Early colleges serve a student population underrepresented in college: Nationally, 77 percent are students of color and over half are from low-income families. The impact of early college on high school graduation and college enrollment did not differ significantly based on gender, race, family income, first-generation college-going status, or achievement prior to high school. And early colleges were particularly effective at helping female students, students of color, and lower-income students earn college degrees.

3. The study compared early college students with students who wanted to attend early college but lost out in an admissions lottery.

AIR’s lottery-based random experiment allows us to make causal conclusions about the impact of early college. In other words, there’s something about early college that helps its students succeed—and do better than similar kids at traditional high schools who were just as motivated but didn’t get the chance to enroll.

Here at JFF, we think we know what that something is.

Early college high schools use dynamic, engaging teaching strategies that accelerate students of all skill levels to college readiness, they offer intensive academic and social supports, and they help students navigate the confusing and challenging bridge to college.

School districts across the nation are recognizing that these strategies benefit all students, and together with JFF are adapting them to transform the large, comprehensive high schools in which far too few students go on to earn a college degree.

In Chicago, we’re helping five schools build early college STEM career pathways. In South Texas, with our partners Educate Texas, we’re working with Pharr-San Juan-Alamo and Brownsville as they transform their schools so every student is on an early college pathway. Denver, too, is adopting early college as a major postsecondary completion strategy.

AIR’s study is energizing us and our partners as we continue to ensure many more students reach college graduation.

Photograph copyright David Binder, 2008