Expanding What Works: The Federal Policy Landscape of Early College and Dual Enrollment

Published may. 07, 2014

The nation has been engaged in an ongoing conversation on how to improve student success and the affordability of education. At a Congressional briefing last week, several important voices collectively advocated for early college and dual and concurrent enrollment as effective strategies for high school and college success:

  • Early college high school alumna Yevgeniya Bulayevskaya explained that she had arrived in New York City from Ukraine without basic English skills. The assistance she received from Bard High School Early College enabled her to not only catch up to her peers but to also keep up with the school’s rigorous expectations. These supports, coupled with the opportunity to earn college credit in high school tuition-free, changed Yevgeniya's life dramatically. She went on to graduate from SUNY Stony Brook in half the time of her peers, and is now Director of Major Gifts Programs at a prominent national organization.
  • Eleventh-grade student Toria Hawkins, from the Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s County Community College in Maryland, explained how the opportunity to take challenging college courses in high school empowered her with the confidence to pursue a health degree and career. Better yet, Toria can complete a good portion of the degree while still in high school at no cost to her family.
  • Leaders from various dual enrollment programs and organizations such as the National Middle College Consortium, Lewis & Clark Community College in Illinois, and Sinclair Community College in Ohio, reiterated that Yevgeniya and Toria’s stories hold true for their own students, particularly for those coming from low-income families or who are first-time college-goers.

What emerged from the Congressional briefing, cohosted by Jobs for the Future, the National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, the Middle College National Consortium, Bard College, and KnowledgeWorks, was a consensus that early college and dual enrollment can dramatically reduce time and cost to degrees in life-changing ways by improving, accelerating, and supporting the transition to postsecondary education, while reducing the need for developmental or remedial education in college.

Fortunately, federal policies are now beginning to recognize early college and dual enrollment programs as a college success strategy—for good reason. Data from JFF and the American Institutes for Research show that early college improves postsecondary persistence and credential completion significantly, including among low-income students. 61% of students in JFF’s 280 early college partner schools are low-income, 94% earn transferable college credit in high school, and 30% earn a full associate degree by the end of high school.

Recent Congressional policy proposals, many with bipartisan support, encourage the adoption of early college and dual enrollment strategies as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act, among other laws. The Obama Administration is also helping to boost dual enrollment and early college through regional and national efforts, including Investing in Innovation (i3), Race to the Top, the new Youth CareerConnect grants, and several other grants, guidelines, and proposals. The Administration has also requested input for the next Experimental Sites Initiative to test out more effective uses of federal student aid, including a focus on early college or dual enrollment as a potential strategy. Further information about JFF’s experimental sites proposal on Pell grants for early college is available.

In all of these policy opportunities lies a potent solution to higher education barriers imposed by skyrocketing college tuition costs. Early college and dual enrollment improve the reality of college costs and college success rates for students from all geographic regions and backgrounds. With effective policy and support, we know that they can work for many more. Now it’s time we make it happen.