Early college high school may save money and improve graduation rates

by Grace

Early college high schools are small schools designed so that students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree. Early college high schools have the potential to improve high school graduation rates and better prepare all students for high-skill careers by engaging them in a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum and compressing the number of years to a college degree.

Intended to serve underrepresented groups; designed to “save time and money”

Since 2002, the partner organizations of the Early College High School Initiative have started or redesigned 240+ schools serving more than 75,000 students in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The schools are designed so that low-income youth, first-generation college goers, English language learners, students of color, and other young people underrepresented in higher education can simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree—tuition free.

Distribution of early college high schools throughout the country


Are early college high schools working?

Data from early college high schools are promising. First, the schools are reaching their target populations. Nationally, roughly three-fourths of the young people attending early college high schools are students of color, while nearly 60 percent report eligibility for free or reduced-priced lunch (a conservative indication of the number of students from low-income families). Most students attending early college high schools will be the first in their families to go to college. …

In 2010, 5,414 students graduated from early college high schools around the country. Their achievements far surpass those of their peers from traditional high schools serving similar populations. Preliminary data show that:

  • More than 250 early college high school graduates earned merit-based college scholarships. Four earned the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship, awarded to 1,000 high-achieving, low-income students each year.
  • 23.3% of graduates earned an Associate’s degree or technical certificate.
  • 77% of graduates went on to some form of postsecondary education: enrolled in four-year colleges (52%), two-year colleges (23%), and technical programs (2%).
  • Of 109 schools reporting data on graduates, more than half (56%) said that students had earned two or more years of college credit.
  • 80% of early college schools had a graduation rate equal to or higher than their school district (54 out of 68).
  • The average graduation rate for early colleges was 84%, compared to 76% for their school district.

Early college students are “more likely to earn a college degree than students in traditional high schools”.

Burges High School in my hometown of El Paso has just been designated an early college high school.  Demographics must have changed considerably over the last 40 years, as my memory is that Burges used to serve higher-income families.  Today almost 90% of its students are Hispanic and about 60% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

AP and dual enrollment courses are a way for students in more affluent school districts to gain college credits in high school.

3 Comments to “Early college high school may save money and improve graduation rates”

  1. We participate in a program in which area high schools can develop and teach college level courses under the supervision of the relevant department at the university. Students who take these courses in high school get credit for the course at my university. My understanding is that a number of colleges in this area do something like this.


  2. I had no idea such arrangements existed. I assume this is not under the AP program.


  3. No, not AP at all.


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