At Last, Early College Makes the Grade in Massachusetts

Published jun. 27, 2019

For the past two decades, JFF has supported and encouraged the development of early college high schools across the United States but has had limited opportunity to help grow ECHS in our home state of Massachusetts.  

Nevertheless, several sturdy early college high schools (ECHS) slowly grew in Massachusetts over the last 20 years. These programs provide students with up to two years of college credit in a career-focused pathway at no or minimal cost. ECHS aims to support young people who are at risk of not attaining a postsecondary credential.

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Young people testified to the impact of early college high school on their lives at a forum at the Massachusetts State House.

For nearly 20 years, JFF has led the way for early college high schools

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The initiatives in Massachusetts were all ECHS programs within large high schools. They grew out of a few JFF partnerships funded through Race to the Top, then through President Obama’s Youth Career Connect program, and a JFF partnership with SAP, an enterprise software company. The state, however, remained on the sidelines.

Two years ago, that changed. The state Departments of Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary Education established an early college designation and a funding stream to aid in startup costs. Now, with generous financial support from the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation, JFF is working with five communities that are engaged in ECHS. The communities represent seven community and state colleges that are partnered with 12 high schools. Enthusiasm for early college is growing. 

At a forum at the Massachusetts State House earlier this month, local leaders advocated for ECHS and young people testified about the difference early college made in their lives. Watch their testimony here.

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Local community and youth leaders advocate for early college at the State House.

At that same event, MassINC unveiled new research from gold-standard evaluations showing that, almost 20 years since ECHS first began to scale, the return on investment remains strong. Each dollar invested in ECHS returned $15 in benefit to students—as they increased their lifetime earnings—and to the public—through higher tax returns and decreased government spending. The report also found that ECHS can double postsecondary-degree completion among low-income high school students, an urgent agenda for a state that has more jobs that require a postsecondary credential than applicants ready to fill them. 

 The promise of early college high school in Massachusetts is strong. ECHS requires a strong partnership between the Boards of Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education; in Massachusetts that partnership is flourishing. The Board of Higher Education is also in the process of establishing equity as the framework for a refreshed strategy for the future, and early college is a key strategic component. JFF is excited to bring our expertise and that of our ECHS partners across the country to our home state.

Thank you to the Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation for generous support of JFF in investing in early college high school. 

All photos courtesy of MassINC.