The Promise of Early College in Massachusetts

Published jan. 29, 2015
I was the first in my family to go to college.

For many early college high school students, this is their reality, and this reality is one I share. I was in high school in Boston over 25 years ago and, at the time, had very limited knowledge of college, but was constantly told that I should go. I did go, but was woefully underprepared in every way you can imagine.

To succeed in college and careers, students need even more than just academic proficiency. They must also have college-ready skills, such as study skills, self-advocacy skills, and the ability to navigate campus resources, from faculty office hours to career counseling. A lack of preparation limits many, especially those with few supports at school or at home. These circumstances harm not only individuals, but also our economy and democracy, both of which depend on a well-educated nation.

The early college high school model was developed to expose first time college-goers and low-income students to college and to provide students an opportunity to earn college credits while still in high school. In some cases, early college students have earned both a high school diploma and Associate’s degree at the same time! This model is meant to provide a structured way for students to experience college while accelerating their path toward postsecondary success.

Early college models are now taking off in Massachusetts. The Rennie Center recently published a report, Achieving the Vision: Priority Actions for a Statewide Education Agenda, where they provide recommendations for effective school practices that prepare every young person for success in college, careers, and life, and one of those recommendations is to replicate innovative early college designs.

According to the report, “Students who accumulate 20 credits in their first year of college are far more likely to persist to a degree than students who did not meet this credit threshold during their first year of postsecondary education.”

Since 2002, Jobs for the Future and our partners have helped start or redesign over 280 early college schools that currently serve more than 80,000 students nationwide. Here are some comparison data:

  • 90% of early college students graduate high school vs. 78% of students nationally
  • 94% earn free college credit while in high school
  • 30% earn an Associate’s degree or other postsecondary credential while in high school

As educators, policymakers, and others working for systems change, we need to ensure smoother paths for young people from high school to and through college, and connect these to labor market demands. In Massachusetts, Jobs for the Future is collaborating on a few exciting initiatives.

  • Through a Youth CareerConnect grant funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, three high schools (Brockton High School, West Springfield High School, and Marlborough STEM Early College High School) are creating pathways to and through college to careers in specific industries like healthcare, advanced manufacturing and information technology (IT).
  • In Boston, Charlestown High School is developing an IT pathway to Bunker Hill Community College and through to careers in IT. This particular program was funded by SAP, the market leader in enterprise application software. (Read a recent press release from the City of Boston on the project).

It is my strong belief that all students can succeed in postsecondary education and should be given the opportunity to do so, as I was, despite the odds. It has become my mission in life to help others who are first-time college goers successfully navigate the system and persist in the face of adversity, which is why I believe so strongly in the early college model. We should not trust an individual’s future to whether or not they can “figure it out.” Early college not only gives students the opportunity to experience college while in high school, but also provides those supports so students can be given the knowledge to persist and succeed.