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How Early College High Schools Prepare Students for Educational Success

Jun 26, 2013

Students enrolled in Early College High Schools can get head starts on college courses -- and their postsecondary education careers -- and a new study indicates that these students have greater educational outcomes than other students, with higher graduation and college enrollment rates.

An American Institutes for Research (AIR) study analyzed the impact and long-term effects of the Early College High School Initiative, launched in 2002 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of the initiative is to expose traditionally under-represented students to a college experience, with the opportunity to earn an associate's degree or two years of college credit while on the way to a high school diploma.

Such an initiative can help lead underprivileged students down a stronger education path, especially as scores of these students, under financial burdens, opt out of higher education. And, as the AIR report notes, those who receive earlier college education report that they have a better high school experience, citing higher ratings in the level of instructor support, financial aid support, as well as a supportive college exposure- factors that contribute to educational decisions.

The Early College High School Initiative spans across the U.S. Shortly after the initiative launched, California Community Colleges created 15 such accelerated high schools throughout the state with a $9 million grant commitment. In 2003, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave a $6.75 million grant to the City University of New York to collaborate with the New York City Department of Education for the creation of 10 Early College High Schools. There are currently more than 240 such institutions across the country.

As these high schools continue to emerge, AIR's Early College, Early Success: Early College Initiative Impact study, which analyzed 2,458 students, provides insight into just how much of an impact early-college exposure has on high school students. The study compared the educational trajectories of students admitted to Early College High Schools to the students who were not admitted (the "comparison" group).

The key findings are based on a sample of 10 early colleges, and indicate that overall, their enrollees fared better than their peers. While the report notes that early-college on high school and college enrollment did not "differ significantly based on gender, family income, race/ethnicity or first-generation college-going status, or pre-high school achievement ... the impact on earning a college degree was stronger for female, minority, and lower income students than for their counterparts."

Here are a few more key findings:

  • Early college students have higher high school graduation rates. While 86 percent of the early college students graduated high school, 81 percent of the comparison group received a high school diploma.


  • Early college students enroll in colleges at a higher rate. Seventy-one percent of comparison students enrolled in college, versus 80 percent of early college students. Early college grads were more likely to enroll in two and four-year institutions.


  • Early college students are more likely to earn a college degree. The greatest disparity between the early college students and their peers was reflected in college degree attainment: 21 percent of students who had the early college experience earned a college degree just one year past high school, versus just 1 percent of students in the comparison group.


To see the AIR's report on the study, click here.